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During the August 5-21 Olympics we’ll be hearing many stories of perseverance and hardship. Many Olympians, though, have stories of Christian faith as well. Here are notes on four American Olympians traveling to Rio for more than a medal.
Steele Johnson: Men’s Synchronized 10-Meter Diving
When Steele Johnson was 12, he nearly died during a dive, hitting the concrete platform with his head and falling 33 feet into the water. Later, he told The Indianapolis Star the injury only fueled his dream of Olympic gold: “I wanted to be the kid that had the big injury and came back from it and made the Olympics. … But, now I’ve realized that God had His hand over all of it.”
Johnson, now a college sophomore and part of Team USA, says his Christian faith has deepened over the last year, as he has realized that merely winning leaves him empty. He and his diving partner David Boudia, also a Christian, have been meeting weekly for accountability. They tell reporters about their faith, and Johnson said his goal in life has changed: He aims to glorify God.
Christa Dietzen: Women’s Indoor Volleyball
Christa Dietzen’s fear of misserving the ball nearly kept her out of the 2012 Olympics. Dietzen struggled to enter the gym, had nightmares about playing, and missed tournament after tournament, too afraid to participate. She wanted “God to remove the anxiety and fear of serving ... a quick fix.” Not until she realized that God wanted her whole life did she change.
A few months before the 2012 Olympics, during a water break from her practice of a new serve, she remembers feeling a break in her cloud of fear. The U.S. team won silver medals in 2012 and, with Dietzen as captain, is a favorite for gold medals this year. “God began showing me how to play with Him, not for Him,” Dietzen says. “That’s what brings me the greatest joy.”
Kevin Durant: Men’s Basketball
NBA star Kevin Durant grew up poor with a single mother who drove him to excellence and brought him to church. He attended a Christian school where his teachers answered probing spiritual questions. The influence of Oklahoma City Thunder teammates helped him become more comfortable with expressing his faith in Christ.
Durant attends chapel before every game and frequently carries a Bible to media events. He says, “Basketball is just a platform in order for me to inspire people,” and that he is “thankful to the Lord for the gifts He has given me.”
Claressa Shields: Women’s Middleweight Boxing
Claressa Shields grew up poor in Flint, Mich., while her father was in prison. Her mother’s “boyfriends” sexually abused her, and she started to box when she was 11. Baptized at 13, she began attending church, found strength in her Christian faith, and left home.
Shields traveled to the 2012 Olympics at age 17 as the youngest U.S. boxer in 40 years, with only one loss on her record. She won gold. She prays before every fight, talks about God’s plan for her life, and says, “All glory to God.”