Inspiring Athletes

The college sports season is winding down along with the NBA and NHL championships while Major League Baseball, NASCAR and professional golf seems to just be getting started. Here are some highlights from last week’s action:

Allgaier outlasts Nationwide field on fumes

NASCAR Nationwide Series rising star Justin Allgaier got his second career win Saturday night at the STP 200 in Chicago. It was especially meaningful for Allgaier who is racing for his new team at Turner Motorsports and even more so because the track is about 150 miles from his hometown in Riverton, Ill. Allgaier picked up the win when race leader Carl Edwards ran out of gas with less than a lap left in the race. Allgaier ran out of gas too but was able to coast to the victory.

Watch the final lap highlights below:

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Allgaier is one of several young men in NASCAR that have relied on their faith to get them through the extreme highs and lows of the sport. Here’s a preview of an interview with Allgaier that I’ll be posting later this week: “Every day in life there are challenges; whether you’re an accountant, a race car driver or whatever you do,” he told me. “Obviously in this sport, there are more challenges than maybe others but I’ve just had to put my faith in God. This is the person I am and I’m not going to shy away from it. I don’t think I’ve changed as a person from early in my career when I was able to be in church every Sunday morning to now.”

Bayne finishes third in first race back from illness

Fellow Nationwide “young gun” Trevor Bayne also had a big impact at the race in Chicago. The Daytona 500 winner was making his first start in the Roush Fenway #16 Ford since being struck by a mystery illness caused by an insect bite several weeks ago. Bayne, age 20, started in 31st place but consistently charged forward to a third-place finish. Bayne has been an inspiration during his time away from the track. Always upbeat and positive, he once Tweeted to fans during the ordeal, “God has something cool going on that we can’t yet see.”

Pujols’ wins two in a row with the walk-off

Also last Saturday, Albert Pujols was at it again. Despite an uncharacteristically slow start, the former MVP and perennial All-Star Cardinals first baseman has been heating up of late. He showed everyone what they’d been waiting for in a 12-inning game against the rival Chicago Cubs. Pujols hit two home runs in the game including a walk-off solo shot that gave St. Louis the 5-4 victory. The Cubs were snake bitten again the next day in a 3-2 loss when Pujols provided a game-winning blast. Pujols now has 10 career walk-off home runs. That’s tied for second among active players with David Ortiz. Only Jim Thome (12) has more.

For highlights of Saturday’s game including Pujols’ game-winning home run, click here.

Miller focuses on family during NBA Finals

Heading into the week, Miami held a 2-1 lead over Dallas in the NBA Finals, but don’t be surprised if Heat guard Mike Miller is a little bit distracted. During the Eastern Conference finals, his wife Jennifer gave birth to the couple’s third child, a daughter named Jaelyn. It’s been a struggle ever sine. Jaelyn was born with four holes in her heart and was kept at the hospital until May 31st. While not completely out of the woods, the Millers, who previously donated roughly a million dollars to a children’s hospital in South Dakota, are thankful for the progress made so far.

If you missed Miller and his wife’s story during halftime of Sunday night’s game, you can watch the inspiring video here.

Small Christian schools make big impact on college baseball

As the NCAA baseball regionals wrapped up Sunday night, there were three small Christian schools putting their collective stamp in a sports arena dominated by major conference programs. Oral Roberts, having already eliminated Oklahoma, defeated Dallas Baptist 6-2 and forced a regional final tonight at 8 p.m., ET. The winner will advance to the College World Series Super Regional. Belmont, on the other hand, went much farther than expected before falling to #1 seed Vanderbilt in its regional final.

WNBA’s Tulsa Shock reaches out to tornado victims in Joplin, Mo.

Tulsa, Okla., is just over 100 miles and 90-minute drive from Joplin, Mo. Perhaps that’s why so many from Northeastern Oklahoma are among the throngs visiting the city that was devastated by tornadoes two weeks ago. Among the volunteers were members of the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock who took a bus up 1-44 and spent the day helping where they could.

Former track star Marion Jones and second-year player with the Shock was so moved that she sent out this message via Twitter: “Words cannot describe the total destruction that we witnessed today in Joplin but the one thing that was so evident from our trip was how God was at every turn. He is so mighty and powerful and the community is so overwhelmingly thankful to have their lives. I was so overwhelmed and honored to be part of this team today.”

To view a photo gallery of the team’s experience, click here.

Come back tomorrow for a conversation with Twins outfielder Denard Span. Later this week, be looking for interviews with Aaron Kampman, Andy Pettitte and Justin Allgaier.

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