Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

A conversation with NASCAR driver Blake Koch

posted by Chad Bonham
NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Blake Koch (photo courtesy NASCARMedia.com)

NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Blake Koch (photo courtesy NASCARMedia.com)

Blake Koch has never been afraid of hard work. And that’s a good thing considering how difficult it is to break into NASCAR—especially when driving for small, underfunded teams.

Over the past six years, Koch has raced in all three major series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck) for no less than 15 different owners. But that hasn’t slowed him down from pursuing his dream. More importantly, however, has been his desire to use the NASCAR platform as a way to share the Gospel message of Christ.

In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Koch talks about his relationship with other young Christian drivers within the sport and how he deals with the ups and downs of sponsorship and on-track performance:

Chad Bonham: How important has it been to have a solid support group (guys like Michael McDowell, Trevor Bayne, etc.) to help you get through the uncertainty of the racing business?

Blake Koch: I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. 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 are going the right way but when I look back I really do love the way everything has happened. Last year looked like it was going to be a great year at the beginning and then everything started falling apart, but through that I developed a great relationship with my team owner and I was able to help lead him to Christ and now he’s going to church with his family. So yeah, when you look at things from a racing standpoint, it’s been a rough couple of years, but spiritually it’s been awesome.

Bonham: Everyone seems to be struggling with sponsorship these days. How do you deal with that element of the sport—especially during the offseason between November and February?

Blake Koch's car at the DRIVE4COPD 300 in Daytona was sponsored by the Son of God movie. (Photo courtesy of NASCARMedia.com)

Blake Koch’s car at the DRIVE4COPD 300 in Daytona was sponsored by the Son of God movie. (Photo courtesy of NASCARMedia.com)

Koch: It’s tough to get that sponsor that’s going to stick with you all through the year. There just aren’t many of them that do that anymore. You have to put smaller deals together—five race deals, 10 race deals, one race deals. After those deals are up you’ve got to do it all over again. I’d love to be in a competitive car every week but just being around the track is a dream come true and a great opportunity. It sure as heck beats working for a living (laughs).

Bonham: What did you learn about the business of racing and yourself in light of the sponsorship controversy (Koch lost a 20-race deal with the Rise Up and Register Campaign when ESPN rejected the sponsor’s advertisements) from 2012?

Koch: It was a crazy time in my life. I don’t really let things bother me too bad so it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. There was an issue with ESPN and we resolved it. I don’t get mad at people. I was just wondering what was going on and what the outcome was going to be. Looking back, the outcome ended up being great for me career wise. I had it easy for a while. I had a sponsor every week. I raced every week with no problems. Then I lost my sponsorship and I had to race my way in every weekend. It taught me how to unload and get up to qualifying trim right away. I had to do that for a year or so. And then when I had the chance to get into a really fast racecar, I was ready. Something like that just prepared me for where I am to and the opportunities that are on the way. So yeah, that was an interesting time in my career. I even got to go on Fox News and I’d never watched Fox News before that. But as long as you speak the truth and say what’s on your heart, you can’t do anything wrong.

Blake Koch is one of several drivers who were interviewed for the book Faith in the Fast Lane: How NASCAR Found Jesus.

Keep up with the latest news about Blake’s racing career by visiting his official website www.blakekoch.com.

A conversation with NASCAR driver Michael McDowell

posted by Chad Bonham
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Michael McDowell (Photo by Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Michael McDowell (Photo by Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Michael McDowell has been quietly building confidence and a solid résumé over the past seven years. It hasn’t been the easiest transition for the former open wheel racer and road course specialist, but his determination to make a permanent home in NASCAR and stronger desire to have a larger impact within the garage has driven him right to the edge of a significant breakthrough.

Earlier this year, Inspiring Athletes caught up with NASCAR Sprint Cup driver McDowell who talked about the group of Christian drivers that he leads, the unique spiritual makeup of the sport and the benefit of working for several Christian owners throughout his career:

Chad Bonham: As a group of young drivers trying to live for God within the context of the NASCAR garage, how does the larger group work together to help an individual who might be facing challenges?

Michael McDowell: Our relationships go way beyond the racetrack and the Bible study. We all do life together—especially me and Trevor and Blake and Josh and a handful of other guys. When Blake was going through some sponsorship issues, he was calling us and asking us what we thought about it. You just walk through those things with them and give them someone to lean on and give them good advice.

Bonham: What is the atmosphere like in the garage as a group of outspoken Christians?

McDowell: If you look at other places in the world, we’ve got it easy in NASCAR. There’s no persecution here. We were having a Bible study in the RV lot and there were about 10 of us guys just walking around with our Bibles and no one cared what we were doing. There’s always going to be trials but it’s just how you get through them. God doesn’t waste any of them. Every trial is an opportunity to upgrade your character. It’s just part of our growth and part of who we are. God is good even when the circumstances aren’t. God is still good.

Bonham: Has your journey through NASCAR been a little smoother because of your opportunity to drive for several Christian owners like Joe Gibbs, Phil Parsons and Randy MacDonald?

Michael McDowell in the #95 K-LOVE Ford (Photo by Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Michael McDowell in the #95 K-LOVE Ford (Photo by Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)

McDowell: Yeah, this is a really cool sport. For me, I’m not just trying to drive for Christian teams. That’s not my goal. But it is nice. After 2008, I struggled in the Cup Series and it didn’t work out for Michael Waltrip Racing. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. My commitment to living out my faith became intensified. Before 2009 started, my prayer was really, “God I don’t know if you want me to be in racing or not, but whatever I do, it’s going to be with a mindset of living out my faith and being outspoken about it.” I’ve just been fortunate to work with people that are likeminded. But it’s easy in this sport because there are a lot of people in this sport like that. It’s definitely cool and you learn a lot from those experiences. You go from a team like Randy MacDonald’s, which had no money, and then I get to go race for Joe Gibbs. I’ve had some success over there and I’ve had some great runs. I’ve come close to winning races a couple times. I’m very thankful for that opportunity. This sport is crazy. There are so many ups and downs. If your faith is determined by your circumstances, it’s never going to work.

Michael McDowell wrote the forward to the 2014 book release Faith in the Fast Lane. Check that out along with the incredible story of “How NASCAR Found Jesus.”

You can also keep up with Michael McDowell’s career by visiting his official website HERE.

 

Kevin Durant wins first career NBA MVP Award

posted by Chad Bonham
Kevin Durant, 2014 NBA MVP (Photo courtesy of NBA)

Kevin Durant, 2014 NBA MVP (Photo courtesy of NBA)

On Tuesday, Kevin Durant won his first career NBA Most Valuable Player award. His acceptance speech has quickly become the source of great inspiration across the country. Durant is truly a unique soul in a league where the biggest names rarely display such authentic humility.

I’ve had the chance to interview Durant a couple of times over the past few seasons. In this composite of those conversations, he gives credit to spiritual leaders such as his mother and his former teammate (and current Connecticut head coach) Kevin Ollie for leading him down the right path and talks about his desire to honor God in everything he does:

Chad Bonham: What did you take away from the 2012 NBA Finals? Did you appreciate the accomplishment of dethroning the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals or were you mostly disappointed that you fell short against the Miami Heat?

Kevin Durant: You can’t take that stuff for granted. People play in this league for 15 years and never make it to the Finals. We did it with a bunch of young guys. It was a great experience for us. We really enjoyed going through that. It was really fun.

Bonham: How have you grown as a leader since coming so close to an NBA championship?

Durant: Experience is the best teacher. I’ve been through a lot—going to the Olympics, going to the Finals, having a lot of good games and having a lot of bad games. It’s a rollercoaster ride and I’m just happy I’m a part of it. If it was easy, then everybody could do it. I’ve learned so much about myself and about my game, and I just keep growing every single year. It’s fun that I get to live out my dream every single day. It’s a blessing. I can’t lose sight of that and I’ve just got to keep pushing.

Bonham: What is the foundation of your strong faith?

Durant: It comes from my family. I went to a Christian school. I was always intrigued simply about how we got here. Why do we do the things we do? Who made us like this? My mom always sat me down and talked to me and I have spiritual teachers that help me out. I’m not perfect at all by any means. I’ve got a long way to go to become closer to the Lord but hopefully I can continue to stay on the path. I might take a few steps forward and take a couple steps back and take some steps forward, but I want to get better.

Bonham: Talk about how Kevin Ollie influenced you when he played in Oklahoma City.

Durant: He’s unbelievable. He got everybody going (to chapel) and wanting to learn more. I was just one of the guys who was trying to follow his lead. He was a big teacher in helping me do that and making me feel more comfortable in my faith around other people and being able to pray for other people and pray out loud and things like that; take those baby steps. I’ve been trying to do a better job.

Bonham: Are you encouraged to see a greater number of Christians—guys like Derek Fisher, John Salmons, Kyle Korver, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and Luke Ridnour—becoming more vocal about their faith?

Durant: It’s unbelievable to know. It’s good to see other people walk with the Lord too. We do so much in this league. A lot of people don’t know how they got these gifts and how they’re portraying them on the floor. It’s always good to let people know where all this stuff came from. To see other players in the league doing the same thing is a joy.

Bonham: People always talk about how down-to-earth you are. What’s your secret to staying humble in a world where it’s all too easy to get caught up in the hype of fortune and fame?

Durant: It’s tough man. I can’t lie. I can’t lie about that. But I always kind of pinch myself and say that any day this can be gone. In the Bible, (it says) the Lord exalts humility and that’s one thing I try to be all the time—when I’m talking in front of people or when people tell me I’m great, I (remind myself that I) can always be better. I always work on what I have now. I’ve just got to be thankful to the Lord for what the gifts He’s given me. My gift back to Him is to always be humble and to always try to work as hard as I can. I’ve got to continue to be that way. I know that if I try to get a big head, my mom is going to do a great job of bringing me back down to size. I have the best of both worlds with the coaches we have here and my parents and my family doing it back at home. I’m in pretty good hands.

A conversation with two-time Olympic bobsleigh athlete Elana Meyers

posted by Chad Bonham

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014Elana Meyers was born into an Episcopalian family that later became Lutheran. More recently, she was baptized in a Baptist church. She’s also been known to attend non-denominational services. So Meyers really isn’t sure how to label her Christian faith.

But the two-time Olympian and 2010 bronze medalist does know that she is first and foremost a follower of Christ. For Meyers, that means doing things a little differently within her highly competitive sport.

In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Meyers talks about how her original path to the Olympics didn’t quite work out, what it means to serve others within her sport, and how fellow believers on the team bring added strength and support to her efforts on the ice:

Chad Bonham: Tell me about your athletic history and how that led you to bobsledding.

Elana Meyers: I grew up in Douglasville, Georgia. My father played football for the Atlanta Falcons. We lived a bunch of players when I was younger. I was born in California. We lived in Chicago for a little bit and finally we ended up in Georgia. I grew up playing softball and at the age of nine I decided I was going to be an Olympian. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time. I thought it might in a warm summer sport like softball, but I played a variety of sports growing up—basketball, soccer and track. I really didn’t care. I just wanted to be an Olympian.

I played softball at George Washington University and then I played professionally for the Mid-Michigan Ice. I had a couple of tryouts with the US Olympic Team but I don’t know if I have a word to describe how bad one of the tryouts was. It was the worst tryout in the history of tryouts. It was that bad. So I totally bombed it and thought my chances of being an Olympian were over. However, my parents had seen bobsledding on TV in 2002 while I was still in the college and they told me I should try it. At the time, I still thought I was going to be an Olympic softball player. But later, when I retired from softball in 2007, I decided to give bobsled a try. I emailed the coach and got invited to Lake Placid for a tryout and I never left.

Bonham: In 2010 you were the brakeman but this time around you’re the driver (with teammate Lauryn Williams). What are the major differences between those two positions?

Meyers: I like to compare the two to a quarterback and a lineman. Being a brakeman is very physical and success is mostly determined by how fast you can push a sled for about 30 meters. Your position is won or lost by the hundredths of seconds you are faster than another individual. It’s like the lineman who is there mostly for their athleticism and physicality. The driver, like the quarterback, possesses a unique skill that takes a lot longer to learn.

Bonham: Bobsledding seems to have become a diverse sport here in the United States.

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014Meyers: Yeah, no one really grows up competing in the bobsled. You have to be 16 years old before you can even drive one. And there are really only two places in the country where you can bobsled in the country—Park City, Utah, and Lake Placid, New York. There’s not really much of an opportunity for a girl from Georgia like me or a girl like Aja (Evans) from Chicago to grow up bobsledding. I think it’s great that we have such a diverse group.

Bonham: Tell me about your faith background.

Meyers: I was baptized Episcopalian when I was maybe two years old and we went to an Episcopalian church. When we moved to Georgia, we started going to a Lutheran church and I fell in love with the church there—Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Douglasville, Georgia. I really have a home there. I have been to non-denominational churches like National Community Church in Washington D.C., but I’ve also gone to Lake Placid Baptist and a slew of other churches. I got baptized with my fiancé (Nic Taylor) this last year at Saranac Lake Baptist Church (in New York), so maybe that makes us Baptist. But for me, it’s really been about my relationship with Christ and not so much about a denomination or a label.

Bonham: Would it just be safe to say that you’re a follower of Christ?

Meyers: That’s sounds great (laughs).

Bonham: How does that play into your athletic career and your personal relationships?

Meyers: The Lord calls us to love everybody. Every day it’s a challenge. Within this sport, I’m called to love everybody. That means that every single German or Canadian that I want to beat, I still have to love. That means competing the way God wants me to compete. That means doing things that might not necessarily be seen as giving me a competitive advantage but instead doing what God would want me to do. As Christians, we’re asked to give. In my sport, if someone needs equipment or help with something, regardless of who they are as a competitor, I’m called to help them for a higher purpose. So it definitely affects everything I do. It’s not easy. It’s very hard to love everyone. But I know that God is working through me within this sport. I know He’s put me here for a purpose and it’s not just to win medals. Winning is great and hopefully it gives me a platform to spread His love and spread His Word, but at the end of the day, I’m called to do what He wants me to do.

Bonham: What do you believe should be the correlation between the Christian athlete and excellence?

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014Meyers: I’m a representative of something that’s greater than myself. 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. It’s also freed me up. We’re talking about the Olympics. We’re talking about trying to win the gold medal. All of these things can be overwhelming. But regardless of whether I win a gold medal or never compete again, I just have to trust that God has a plan for my life and I’m called to be His representative through the sport and outside of the sport.

Bonham: How helpful is it to have others on the bobsled team that share your faith in Christ?

Meyers: It’s very helpful. In Lake Placid we have Bible studies and it’s awesome to be able to share your struggles as an athlete and as a Christian with others Christian athletes. That’s one of the coolest things about sports ministry. We can share these common experiences with other Christians. Having Lolo as a teammate, for example, has been great. I went through a tough week during the season and she sent me some scriptures and it really helped remind why I was here. I’ve got some other great teammates like Dallas Robinson and Johnny Quinn on the men’s side who have been tremendous at showing Christ’s love. It’s not just the US teams, but there are also many believers from the international community including several from the Canadian team. We hope to grow Christianity throughout our sport.

Bonham: What does it mean to be called an Olympian?

Meyers: It’s one of the greatest honors I could ever imagine—to be able to represent my country and to be able to wear “USA” on my back. It’s an incredible honor. It’s an accomplishment of the past four year but of a life of dreaming and working hard and doing everything I can in pursuit of this goal. It’s a huge testament to those around me—my friends, my family and everyone who supported me. Without their help, I couldn’t have made it here. It’s been an amazing journey. But we are here for a higher purpose There’s a reason that God has for each of us in the sport. It’s all about serving His purpose.

Follow Elana Meyers and the US Bobsleigh Team by visiting the official NBC coverage site HERE.

Previous Posts

A conversation with NASCAR driver Blake Koch
Blake Koch has never been afraid of hard work. And that’s a good thing considering how difficult it is to break into NASCAR—especially when drivin

posted 12:00:48pm Aug. 25, 2014 | read full post »

A conversation with NASCAR driver Michael McDowell
Michael McDowell has been quietly building confidence and a solid résumé over the past seven years. It hasn’t been the easi

posted 12:00:42pm Aug. 18, 2014 | read full post »

Kevin Durant wins first career NBA MVP Award
On Tuesday, Kevin Durant won his first career NBA Most Valuable Player award. His acceptance speech has quickly become the source of great inspiration across the country. Dura

posted 12:00:26am May. 07, 2014 | read full post »

A conversation with two-time Olympic bobsleigh athlete Elana Meyers
Elana Meyers was born into an Episcopalian family that later became Lutheran. More recently, she was baptized in a Baptist church. She’s also been known to attend non-denominational services. So Meyers really isn’t sure how to label her Christian faith. But the two-time Olympian and 2010 bron

posted 7:00:31pm Feb. 14, 2014 | read full post »

A conversation with Olympic freestyle skier Nick Goepper
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 ac

posted 12:00:40am Feb. 13, 2014 | read full post »


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