On occasion, I am privileged to hear one of the student-athletes in whom I invest my life express his or her faith in a unique way. One such instance occurred a couple of weeks ago as we held a Fellowship of Christian Athletes large group meeting on campus at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. This was the first one we have even tried to do in the twenty years of our service with the university’s student-athletes and coaches.
The notes below are from the talk prepared by a senior swimmer from Wisconsin who has been attending weekly FCA meetings in my home since she was a freshman. It has been a joy to watch her develop in every facet of her life. I trust you’ll sense some of that development and the process of it in the notes. I am very proud of Holly and her heart-felt, candid talk with her teammates and other peers.
My Faith in Sport
· Holly Johnson - Senior, Major-Science
· Thank Roger and my FCA members for this opportunity to speak none the less at the premier large group meeting, very much along the theme of this as a night of firsts, this is also my first time speaking about my faith in sport. It really makes you think about what you believe when you will be sharing these thoughts with an audience of young adults.
· Before I dive into the thick of it, I’d like to take a few moments to highlight my favorite things about FCA.
o Number one is the relaxing environment- I look forward to being able to sit among people I am comfortable and discuss ideas that aren’t brought up in my chemistry class, without having to worry about whether or not there is a solutions manual online.
o The people- Roger is the man, Sharon is a domestic diva (there is food, and I’m not sure if it is my age or my sport, but I have no shame in eating more servings than the football players, and I have connected with athletes that I wouldn’t have otherwise even thought to say hi to in passing.
o The conversation- outlooks on things I couldn’t understand on my own, people sharing their individual wisdom to provoke thinking of the entire group.
o The understanding. As college athletes our lives are demanding, and even though it may seems like an easy commitment especially when there are delicious desserts involved 1 hour a week is one less hour you can spend on studying or Netflix if we are being realistic. So there have been many times over my three years so far that I have missed a Tuesday or maybe a couple in a row, but what I truly love about this group is that they understand, no questions asked and welcome you back with open arms and sometimes peach cobbler.
· Now, I’d like to discuss my faith and how it has helped shape my athletic career.
o For the majority of my life thus far I believed what I was told and sat in religion class, thinking its only purpose was to make us suffer in the best way they could imitate Jesus having to cross the desert with people that doubted him so many years ago.
o But at some point in the previous few years, it finally clicked. I decided that I didn’t have to believe the same exact things that were written in some book of catholic rules for how to kneel on a tiny bench thing and not look uncomfortable, but instead that I could take all the knowledge I had gathered from different people, events, and the Bible to decide what it all meant to me. After figuring this out, the rest seemed so simple. From my interpretation, everything came down to the idea that there is something out there bigger than myself. I like to refer to that something as a someone and call him/or her God. I owe these realizations not only to FCA, but to swimming.
o As I stand behind the blocks before a race there are many things running through my head. For example, dang these straps are really tight, boy is that last 25 going to a hurt, I wonder what new flavors they have at Chill, why did I pick a sport that has me half naked waiting to flail until my muscles give out in a freezing pool of shame and chemicals, you get the idea. But before my best races, there is always one thing on my mind. This happened for the first time my sophomore year at our midseason invite, I was standing behind the blocks blasting Spanish music to liven the mood when I started contemplating how lucky I was. I was truly happy, I felt loved and secure, and I knew I was about to have a great race, and I did. I decided, this overwhelming feeling of contentment was a product of my faith. Now, as I compete for my final season, my faith is greater than ever. I am so overcome with thankfulness for the opportunity to swim at this level surrounded by people that have a common goal. I owe everything I have to the great mastermind behind constructing this horrible but wonderful world we live in. After attributing my success in and out of the pool and my newfound mental toughness as an athlete, to my faith, I began to use this to help myself become a better friend and team mate.
o As an individual sport, swimming can be cut throat. It is easy to blame your failures on your coaches, but ultimately the pressure is always on yourself. In the same competitive way, teammates can lose site of the camaraderie aspect and lean toward selfish tendencies. As an athlete that now relies on her beliefs and upstairs onlooker to get her though the day, it becomes easier to put things in perspective. Just taking a few moments to reflect on a situation whether good or bad, is a type of patience that counts on faith. When I think about how much I love my team mates, even though I know one of them just skipped half of warm up, or beat me in a race, or took my spot on a relay that is because of my faith. It taught me that the love I have experienced for my team and for the sport is the most real emotion a person can have. And that feeling is why we all show up for “20” hours of practice a week and feel blessed because of it. When you try to really capture how lucky we all are to be playing a sport at a division 1 university, decked out in free clothes, surrounded by people that want us to achieve our absolute best, it is impossible to deny that there is something else out there that really knows what’s up. In the big scheme of things my reliance on something that is more than I could ever be, keeps me humble and reassured. When you think about how many seconds or tenths of a second separate world class athletes from someone like myself, it’s almost laughable. That hilarity captures everything that seems unexplainable, and defines it in one word. Faith. Have I had doubts? Of course! Do I pray all the time and ask questions? Absolutely. But no matter what, my core beliefs never waiver.
o My hope is that by sharing my thoughts today, you can walk away with a sense of confidence that this life we are living is about experiencing as much as we can before what comes next. In this way no experience is bad or good, but rather exactly what we needed to become who we are. As soon as you are confident in your beliefs, even the most major issues become trivial and swimming an event as terrifying as the 200 fly becomes a piece of cake.