By Chad Bonham
It takes years of dedication and hard work to make it to the Olympics. That’s why so many elite athletes find themselves relying on a source of strength that is much stronger and higher than their own. Here’s a look at a few athletes at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang whose Christian faith has guided them along the way:
Maame Biney: Speed Skating (Short Track)
The first thing you’ll notice about Maame Biney is her infectious smile. The Ghana native who immigrated to the United States has a lot to be thankful for and doesn’t mind letting people know. Biney qualified for her first Olympics at the age of 18 and, despite coming home without a medal, plans to be back in 2022.
“I’m still in awe that I’m going to the Olympics!!” she wrote in an emotional Instagram post ahead of the Games. “I want to start off by thanking God. I am so sure that none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Him.”
Kelly Clark: Snowboarding (Halfpipe)
When an 18-year old Kelly Clark won the snowboarding gold medal at the 2002 Olympics Games in Salt Lake City, the action sports world was literally at her feet. And while the next few years brought continued success, Clark struggled with insecurity, loneliness and depression. She was empty inside and didn’t know how to fill the void in her heart.
But everything changed 10 years ago when she prayed to accept Jesus as her Savior. Now, the five-time Olympian, three-time Olympic medalist and five-time Winter X Games gold medalist has found true purpose in life and greater freedom in the half-pipe.
“You’ve got to fight for that connection with God all the time no matter what you’re going through in life,” Clark told CSJ. “I’m growing up. I’m maturing. But I definitely think that the backbone of this is the freedom and creativity I have without the fear of failing. If I fail, what’s going to happen? Nothing. I’m not looking for my self-worth in the sport.”
Nick Goepper: Freestyle Skiing (Slopestyle)
Action sports athletes are often pegged as rebellious, freewheeling and borderline reckless. Freestyle skier Nick Goepper certainly doesn’t dispute the stereotype. But what might surprise some is that there’s a strong remnant of Christians within the various winter disciplines.
And as more action sports are added to the Winter Olympics, that translates into a chance for athletes like the three-time Winter X-Games gold medalist and two-time Olympic medalist to show something unexpected on and off the snow.
I like to think that faith has been a part of my life since I was a lot younger,” Goepper told CSJ. “It’s definitely a part of my athletic career. I always wear a cross on my goggles during contests when I’m doing something gnarly. It’s a reminder that I’ve got someone else helping me out.”
Nicole Hensley: Ice Hockey
Nicole Hensley wasn’t the most likely choice to make the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team, but the Lakewood, Colorado, native somehow found her way onto the talented roster that won back-to-back World Championships and was expected to contend for gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Since the earliest days of her international career, Hensley has become known for her public devotion to the Bible through such visible acknowledgments as verses that often appear on her goalie’s mask. One of her more prominent tributes was taken directly from Psalm 144:1:
“Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.” (NIV)
“For me, I feel that with the abilities and love for hockey that God has given me, He’s also given me a bit of a platform to possibly reach others who are wondering about their faith, or maybe don’t have any faith, or want to grow stronger in their faith,” Hensley told NBC Sports.
Elana Meyers-Taylor: Bobsled
It took a few years, but Elana Meyers-Taylor finally discovered her path to Olympic glory. And in the process, she has become one of the greatest American drivers to navigate a bobsled track.
Meyers-Taylor won a bronze medal at the 2010 Winter Games and improved to a silver medal performance at the 2014 Winter Games (narrowly missing gold by a tenth of a second). But her greatest accomplishment to date might be a title at the 2015 World Championships in Germany, which made her the first U.S., bobsled driver (male or female), in 56 years to win a world title on a non-North American track.
Beyond the bobsled track, however, Meyers-Taylor is more concerned about serving God through acts of kindness that are fueled by His love:
“I’m a representative of something that’s greater than myself,” she told CSJ. “When you see me out there on the track, I’m not just representing myself or my country, I’m representing Christ and what He’s done through me. I have a responsibility to show His love and show others what He’s done for me.”
Alexa and Christopher Schimeca: Figure Skating (Pairs)
One of the best stories to emerge from PyeongChang has been Alexa and Christopher Schimeca’s comeback. The married couple from Colorado has credited their faith in God for helping them overcome adversity. Two years earlier, Alexa Schimeca was fighting a life-threatening illness that required multiple surgeries and the chance to get back on the ice was anything but certain.
Instead, she and her husband fought through the challenging moments and helped Team USA win the bronze medal in the team event.
“Even here at the Games, it’s no longer about me,” Alexa Schimeca told People. “I have fans out there who know that I am a true believer in the Lord and I’m trying my best to shine his light and let people know that it’s okay to promote him and do things for him, because in the Christian life that’s kind of what we’re supposed to.”
Katie Uhlaender: Skeleton
Most Americans are familiar with bobsledding and are becoming increasingly familiar with the luge. But the concept of an athlete lying flat on their stomach and racing headfirst down a spiraling ice track at speeds of 80 miles per hour is relatively knew if not a little bit crazy.
Katie Uhlaender admits it’s the crazy part of skeleton that keeps bringing her back for more. After playing baseball, softball, golf and trying her hand at skiing and power lifting and whatever sport she could try, she met a bobsledder who introduced her to a whole new competitive world.
Now, Uhlaender is the United States’ most accomplished female skeleton athlete. Although she has overcome 12 injuries in 12 years and some personal heartbreak along the way, she has resisted the temptation to quit en route to four Winter Olympic appearances and two World Championship titles.
“Quitting is never an option, so why would I quit on God?” she told CSJ. “He guides me and gives me the strength to keep going.”
David Wise: Freestyle Skiing (Halfpipe)
David Wise is not your typical action sports athlete. He’s got the tricks and the skills to be one of his sport’s elite competitors, but he’s also a family man with a wife and two kids who stays actively involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in his hometown of Reno, Nevada.
None of that changed for Wise when he won the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Games, and it can all be attributed to his relationship with Christ.
“Faith plays a huge role because it enables me to be confident,” he told Crossmap. “I don’t have to worry about what’s happening or the outside influences as much because I feel like I can trust God, and he’s going to see me through. I can look back on my path and realize that God had a pretty significant part in taking care of me. It takes the pressure off and I can enjoy it.”
(Photos: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC; BDZ Sports)