From CSJ Reports –
In part two of our five-part series, we continue our look at the top 25 Christian sports stories of 2016. This time, we’re counting down from #20 to #16 and revisiting moments from the Olympics, NASCAR, college basketball, and the NFL:
20. Helen Maroulis Wins Historic Olympic Gold Medal
In one of the most stunning upsets at the Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, American freestyle wrestler Helen Maroulis defeated 16-time world champion Saori Yoshida from Japan to win the first gold medal in U.S. women’s wrestling history.
It was the culmination of a long journey for Maroulis who was devastated four years earlier when she failed to make Team USA for the 2012 Summer Games in London.
She eventually came out of her depression through daily Bible readings that helped put her spiritual life back on track and gave her the strength to make another run at Olympic glory.
“I think God taught me that wrestling is a tool that He’s using to shape my character,” Maroulis told The Baptist Press. “It’s not something that I need. I love what I do, but with every little step of the way, God’s showing me something, teaching me, challenging me in some way.”
19. Justin Allgaier, Blake Koch Turn Heads In NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase
It wasn’t a big surprise that Justin Allgaier found himself in the middle of the XFINITY Series Chase. But not many predicted that Allgaier’s good friend Blake Koch would also be in the mix.
Koch, in his first season at Kaulig Racing, surprised everyone while driving the #11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet. He scored a career-best eight place finish at Richmond and advanced to the XFINITY Series Chase where he barely missed advancing to the final round.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” he told Christian Sports Journal. There’s been a lot of growth for me as a driver and spiritually too. I’ve been plugged in with the right group of guys and that started from the beginning. Sometimes it seems like things aren’t always going the right way, but when I look back I really do love the way everything has happened.
Allgaier, on the other hand, drove the #7 Brandt Chevrolet for JR Motorsports and nearly won the July race in Daytona. He also finished second at the Food City 300. Throughout the season, he challenged for the XFINITY championship but ultimately finished third in the point standings.
“I’ve just had to put my faith in God,” Allgaier told CSJ. “This is the person I am and I’m not going to shy away from it.”
18. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield named College Player of the Year
Buddy Hield grew up in the Bahamas where his mother worked multiple jobs and he and his six siblings slept on mattresses on the floor. His basketball skills gave him the opportunity to play high school basketball in Kansas. From there his three-point shooting and ball handling skills took over.
Hield finished his stellar four-year career at the University of Oklahoma as a consensus All-American, two-time Big 12 Player of the Year, and winner of the John R. Wooden Award and the Oscar Robertson Trophy. He was also named Naismith College Player of the Year and Sporting News College Player of the Year.
Growing up, Hield attended the Church of God of Prophecy with his family. His faith has always been one of the most important things in his life. Hield credits both family and faith for helping him make it to the NBA where he plays for the New Orleans Pelicans.
“I couldn’t have done it without my family and God and a bunch of good people at my side,” he wrote for The Players’ Tribune.
17. Derek Carr Proves Doubters Wrong, Leads Oakland Raiders Revival
It’s been a long time since the Oakland Raiders have been in the NFL playoffs conversation. In fact, it was 14 years ago when the franchise last made a postseason appearance. Not many expected 2016 would be a breakout season in Oakland, but that’s because not many expected quarterback Derek Carr to become one of the league’s top signal callers.
Through 14 games, he was on pace to hit the 4,000-yard passing mark for the first time in three seasons and his touchdown to interception rate had improved dramatically from the season before. But more importantly, Carr had led the team to an 11-3 record and first-place position in the AFC West.
Carr has become equally known for sharing his faith publicly, much like his older brother David Carr who also played in the NFL. “I want to Christ’s love to shine through me,” he told a large gathering at Monte Vita Chapel.
Unfortunately, Carr broke his fibula in the next to last game of the regular season and was expected to be out six to eight weeks. Carr remained positive despite his heartbreaking circumstances and vowed to make a speedy comeback.
“This will be a day I will never forget!” he shared on Instagram. “He will be glorified!!! Much love to everybody! I will be back stronger than ever very soon!!! #Blessed.”
16. Maya DiRado, Simone Manuel Highlight Huge Showing For USA Swimming at Rio Olympics
The U.S. Olympic Team was dominant at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but perhaps nowhere was that more evident than in the swimming events. Team USA won 33 total medals (a third of 104 awarded) and 16 gold medals (nearly half of 35 awarded). Key performances from Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Ryan Murphy fueled the impressive display.
But two of the most notable individual efforts came from a pair of female athletes who have both been very public about their commitment to the Christian faith.
After disappointing fourth-place finishes in two qualifying races left her out of the 2012 Olympics, vaunted collegiate swimmer Maya DiRado decided to chase after her dream one last time. This time, she not only made the team, but also won four medals including gold medals in the 200-meter backstroke and the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.
“Knowing that I’m a child of God and that his love for me is determined by nothing I can achieve or do on my own has given me a quiet confidence,” DiRado told Christianity Today. “I think that my faith has helped me chart my own course and pursue my goals when people around me may be going in different directions. Jesus’ love for me and all humanity is something that always helps me better love people around me when things get difficult.”
Simone Manuel, on the other hand, made her first Olympic team at the age of 20 and also brought home four medals including gold medals in the high profile 100-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter medley. In the process, Manuel became the first African-American swimmer to win gold in an individual Olympic swimming event.
“It is an honor to represent the USA!” Manuel posted to Twitter after winning gold. “God is working in me! I am so blessed and grateful.”
(Photos: Team USA via Flickr; Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images; ChristopherMo1; NFL via AP Photos)