Faith In the Games

by | May 25, 2012 | Old Magazine Articles

Bryan Clay – Track & Field (Decathlon)

Bryan Clay is quick to admit that he didn’t know he could be
an Olympian until the first time he actually qualified for the 2004 American
track and field squad in the decathlon: “For me it
wasn’t much different than a kid saying, ‘I want to be in the NFL.’ It was just
a dream.”

Not only
did Clay’s dream come true, he scored the second-highest number of points
(8,820) ever by an American and won the silver medal. That’s when he realized
he just might be one of the best decathletes in the world. At the 2008 Beijing
Games, Clay bested his effort and joined a notable list of American gold
medalists such as Bruce Jenner and Dan O’Brien. Along the way, Clay’s steadily
growing faith has been a significant part of the journey.

“Without
my faith, I think it would be very easy for me to have a family that’s in
disarray, to have my priorities out of order, to make decisions that could
derail my path to success. But because I have this foundation of faith, I like
to believe that it’s my compass. It keeps me on the path that I want to be on.
It allows me to make good decisions that bear good results. Without my faith, I
think that I’d be lost and I don’t think that I’d be as successful as I am
today.”

 Ryan Hall – Track and Field (Marathon)

From the very first day Ryan Hall started running at age 14
he instinctively knew it would require everything he had inside himself to be
successful. It took him a little bit longer, however, to fully understand God’s
role in the arduous process of becoming the fastest American-born marathoner.

After briefly dropping out of
college during his sophomore year at Stanford, Hall realized the results-based
lifestyle he was leading was nothing but a recipe for self-loathing and
depression. Since that time, the All-American long-distance runner has scored
three top-four finishes at the Boston Marathon and a 10th place finish at the
2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Though he hasn’t captured that
elusive high-profile victory yet, Hall stands firm on one of his favorite
passages of Scripture, Proverbs 24:16: “For though the righteous fall seven
times, they rise again” (NIV).

“I have found that it’s not the
ability to never fail that makes an Olympian, but the ability to get back up. I
have found that the ability to get back up comes from my ability to stay close
to God and to see myself as He sees me,” Hall says. “God has always given me
the grace and strength to get back up after I have fallen. I have found that He
has given me everything I need to accomplish what He has created me to be and
to do.”

Jonathan Horton
– Gymnastics

If prescribing the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
drug Ritalin had been popular when Jonathan Horton was a kid, he might not have
found his affinity for gymnastics. To help control their 5-year-old’s chaotic
energy, Horton’s parents enrolled him in a training program instead of
medicating him, and a future Olympic medal-winner was born.

After watching the 1996 Summer
Olympics in Atlanta Horton was hooked, and his top goal became making it to the
Games. He qualified for the Olympic Trials in 2004 but finished seven spots out
of a place on the team. In 2008, however, Horton would not be denied. And not
only did it make the team, he came home with a silver medal in the horizontal
bar event and a bronze medal in the team competition.

Most recently, Horton has dealt
with two broken bones and a torn ligament in his foot that he injured at the
2011 World Championships. It’s been the biggest test of faith for a young man
who was raised in church, but didn’t get serious about God until attending
college at the University of Oklahoma.

“Without
my faith, I think I would be panicking,” Horton says. “But sometimes I think
that this could be a blessing in disguise. This could be something He’s put in
front of me to see how strong my faith really is. Sometimes I question if this
was really necessary, but then I realize that this is God’s plan and I have to
overcome it and keep my faith in God. His plan is always greater than my plan.”

Jesse Williams – Track & Field (High
Jump)

Jesse Williams likes to joke that his Olympic journey
started as a baby. In an ironic sense, it’s true. He attended the 1984 Los
Angeles Games with his family at the young age of 7 months. It wasn’t until
1992, however, after watching the Barcelona Games on TV that his dream truly
took hold.

That’s also about the time Williams
discovered he was a natural jumper—so much so that he would make up games where
jumping was a key component so he could win. Williams gravitated toward the
high jump event, for which he has captured 2010 and 2011 USA Outdoor
Championships and most recently claimed his biggest prize yet with a gold medal
at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea.

Williams says that his youthful
commitment to Christ has helped him deal with the inherent ups and downs of
competition and the lonely moments that accompany international travel.

“I know that God has a plan for me
and no matter how many times I fail I know its in Gods plan,” he explains. “I
never let myself get down when I have a bad performance. I use it as
inspiration to work harder. I always fall back on the Word when I am feeling
lonely or when something is not going well.”

Tamika Catchings
– Basketball

It’s been an eventful 12 months for Tamika Catchings. Last
season she was named among the top 15 players in WNBA history and later league
MVP for the first time in her career. Catchings is also making her third
appearance as a member of the USA Women’s Basketball Team and hopes to claim a
third gold medal.

“The Olympics is one of the most
exciting things,” she says. “It’s almost one of those things that even when you
talk about it, you can’t fully describe the feeling—just being able to be
considered one of the best in your nation.”

Catchings has overcome many
adversities to get to this point. As a child, she faced hearing and speech
problems, and her parents’ divorce during the sixth grade. Those struggles have
given her an opportunity to share a message of hope with young people through
her Catch the Stars Foundation, based in Indianapolis.

“God has taught me about patience
and about accepting myself for who I am and knowing that He formed me and made
me unique,” she states. “He made everyone uniquely wonderful. Every single
cell, every single muscle, every single thing about my body, He created and He
formed—even my personality. I never thought I’d be able to speak in front of
hundreds of people and have a story and a testimony. I’m extremely blessed to
have all of these opportunities.”

Missy Franklin –
Swimming

Ever since her mother took her to a “Mom and Me” swimming
class when she was 6 months old, Missy Franklin has proved to be a natural in
the water. Now, at the ripe age of 17, Franklin can already point to her name
in the U.S. and world record books. Most noted as a freestyle and backstroke
specialist, she says her faith has steadily grown since attending Regis Jesuit
High School.

“God is always there for me. I talk
with Him before, during and after practice and competitions,” the Pasadena,
Calif., native says. “I pray to Him for guidance. I thank Him for this talent
He has given me and I’ve promised him that I will be a positive role model for
young athletes in all sports.”

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