Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

A conversation with Olympic freestyle skier Nick Goepper

posted by Chad Bonham

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014Action 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 action sports are added to the Winter Olympics, that translates into a chance for athletes like the two-time Winter X-Games gold medalist to show something unexpected on and off the snow.

In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Goepper talks about how he got into the sport, why at least one of the perceptions about action sports athletes is incorrect, and how his faith in God has helped him through some difficult times:

Chad Bonham: Tell me about how you got into the sport.

Nick Goepper: I started skiing when I was five years old. I grew up on a little 300-foot mountain called Perfect North Slopes (a ski resort in southeastern Indiana). It wasn’t a great destination in the world, but it was a good enough place to learn how to do tricks. Then I started skiing at a training park when I was about nine or 10. I’m just living the dream right now.

Bonham: How important is it for the sport to be welcomed onto such a huge stage at the Olympics?

Goepper: The inclusion of slopestyle in the Olympics is cool. I think it’s going to be a total breath of fresh air. The Olympics needs us more than we need it. We’ve built our sport off a free spirited attitude about a decade ago. We’ve separated from mogul and aerial skiing and we’ve built our own sport and our own tricks. And now we’re going back to the roots. But the Olympics is a world stage for athletics and it’s going to be pretty sweet to represent our sport and represent our culture and show everyone what we’re all about.

Bonham: Tell me about your faith background.

Goepper: My family has always gone to church. I like to think that faith has been a part of my life since I was a lot younger. It’s definitely a part of my athletic career. I always wear a cross on my goggles during contests when I’m doing something gnarly. It’s a reminder that I’ve got someone else helping me out.

Bonham: How do you rely on your faith in a culture that sometimes seems counter to religious expression and beliefs?

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 20142014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014Goepper: Contrary to popular belief, there are actually quite a few guys in the action sports community that have faith and are Christians. There’s also that rebellious, anti-establishment attitude that some people have. They like to stir things up, if you will. But all the athletes are individuals. This isn’t a team sport. We all have our own styles, our own clothing preferences and our own way of doing things. That’s the way I do things and I’m proud of it.

Bonham: How would you define your style within the sport?

Goepper: I’m pretty well rounded. I can do most of my tricks left and right, in both directions. I try to be smooth and confident. But it’s still developing. I’m still trying to find my own personal touch in the way I ski.

Bonham: Does it help to have some others within the sport that have similar beliefs?

Goepper: It’s never fun to do it by yourself. It’s good to have other people that are on the same path as you. It’s nice to have that in common and be able to converse with them. It’s cool to share that.

Bonham: Do you see the sport as a platform to be a good influence on others?

Goepper: All the exciting contests and travel and sponsorships are cool, but I like to be able to have influence on people and on youngsters. One of the great things about the X Games and the Olympics is being on the international stage. It gives you a cool opportunity to express, not only your personal style, but also your faith and what you believe in and your values.

Bonham: Do you feel any pressure to be a role model and is having that platform is something you take seriously?

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014Goepper: Yeah definitely, but there’s no pressure. I’m the kind of person who likes to focus on one thing at a time. I’ll focus on my skiing and then when I get to the bottom of my run and the cameras are on me, I’ll focus on what I need to say, and then I’ll focus that night on recovering and getting ready for the next day. I try to keep a pretty one-tracked mind when it comes to things like that. But honestly, I think it’s great. Even when there’s pressure and distractions and expectations from others or myself, it’s a good thing. It just makes me a better person. It makes me stronger.

Bonham: Can you share a time when God helped you get through a difficult situation?

Goepper: He helps me for sure every day and at every contest. But in particular, this past summer I got really sick for two months and had my tonsils removed. A week after that, I broke my hand and had to get surgery on it. The recovery was really frustrating because I had to skip three weeks at the beginning of the season. But I flipped it around and took it as a blessing. I said a lot of prayers and just asked God to do His thing. I did other things to compliment the recovery like getting the right sleep and taking care of my body. But I went back to the doctor after four weeks and he was ecstatic about the recovery of my hand. I take that as a tribute to my faith and my belief in doing the right things.

Bonham: What biblical principle do you rely on every day?

Goepper: I like to quote the verse, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” I kind of envision me skiing and God is kind of like an eagle right next to me screeching in my ear that everything is going to be all good. I just try my best and that’s all I can ask for.

Follow Nick Goepper and Team USA by clicking HERE.

Photo credit: NBC Olympics/USOC

A conversation with four-time Olympic snowboarder Kelly Clark

posted by Chad Bonham

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014When an 18-year old Kelly Clark won the snowboarding gold medal at the 2002 Olympics Games in Salt Lake City, the action sports world was literally at her feet. And while the next few years brought unprecedented success, Clark struggled with insecurity, loneliness and depression. She was empty inside and didn’t know how to fill the void in her heart.

But everything changed 10 years ago when she prayed to accept Jesus as her Savior. Now, the four-time Olympian, three-time Olympic medalist and five-time Winter X Games gold medalist has found true purpose in life and greater freedom in the pipe.

In this Inspiring Athletes conversation, Clark talks about how she found Christ, how her faith inspires creativity, and how she wants her platform to be a blessing to others:

Chad Bonham: Tell me about your spiritual journey.

Kelly Clark: Snowboarding was everything that I knew. That’s what I did and I poured everything I had into it. I thought that being successful and achieving my goals would go hand-in-hand with being happy. But by the time I was 18 years old, I had achieved everything that was in my heart to do and at the same time I wasn’t finding the fulfillment I was expecting to get from it. All of the experiences were incredible and I wouldn’t trade them for the world, but it wasn’t fulfilling me. I went through the motions for a few more years, but I was looking for something more. When I was 20, I was contemplating quitting. I was at the first event of the season and I overhead a conversation between two girls. One told the other, “God still loves you,” and that caught my attention. Later that day, I caught up with the girl and asked her what she meant. Before then, I’d never really thought about God. But there was an undeniable stirring in me and I couldn’t ignore it. I thought being a Christian was about following rules and going to church and being good all the time, but this girl helped me understand that it’s about having a relationship with God. That was where things shifted for me.

Bonham: After winning the gold in 2002, how did your new faith in God help you deal with the disappointment of finishing fourth at the 2006 Games?

Clark: By then, my identity had started to shift. Before that, my identity was in snowboarding. That’s how people knew me and that’s how I knew myself. That’s where I got a lot of my self worth. That began to shift and I started to understand that I didn’t get my worth from people or from the things that I did. It was from Christ. If I hadn’t had that shift in my life, I think my world would have come crumbling down.

Bonham: You’ve been on tear since the last Olympics with four straight Winter X Games gold medals in the super pipe event. Can you explain what has spurred on the recent success?

Clark: These have been the most successful years I’ve ever had. I’ve been placing well in the contests but more importantly I’ve been enjoying them. I think those two things go hand-in-hand.

Bonham: Snowboarding is known as a youth-driven sport, so how have you been able to stay relevant for so long?

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014Clark: It’s funny. I competed against a 13-year old girl at the Winter X Games. I looked down at her birth date and it said 2000. I was like, “Huh, I wonder if she even knows what Y2K is?” But I guess I’ve just been able to build a foundation. The foundational skills of snowboarding are what pay off in the long run. That’s something I’ve been able to build over time and that’s benefited me a lot. With my age and looking at my career, perhaps I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever been. I’m not trying to snowboard for other people anymore. That just kind of comes with age and growing up. That’s helped me a lot. Some of that started right after the last Olympics (in Vancouver). I was having a conversation with one of my teammates and she asked me, “Aren’t you so glad it’s over? We don’t have to compete anymore.” I thought that was a strange comment but in that moment I realized that I was doing it for the right reasons. I wasn’t looking at the Olympics to define me. I wasn’t to arrive somewhere by performing well in a contest. So after those Games, I continued to compete that season and the year after that. I really had the goal of being intentional. I didn’t want to do big tricks because it was an X Games final or an Olympics final. I wanted to call my own shots. I started to do that and I started to have more fun than I ever knew I could have.

Bonham: The last time we talked, you spoke of how you found a greater sense of freedom in the sport when you first entered into a relationship with Christ. Is this recent success a continued expression of that defining moment in your life?

Clark: I think so. It’s definitely got to be a daily thing. There’s no formula to walking with God. There’s no formula to having success as an athlete. It’s about relationships and it’s a daily thing. You’ve got to revisit things and you’ve got to be willing to work on things all the time. You’ve got to fight for that connection with God all the time no matter what you’re going through in life. I’m growing up. I’m maturing. But I definitely think that the backbone of this is the freedom and creativity I have without the fear of failing. If I fail, what’s going to happen? Nothing. I’m not looking for my self-worth in the sport.

Bonham: What are some of the stabilizing forces that help you to maintain that desire to stay in a relationship with Christ?

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014Clark: People ask a lot about how I can be a believer in a culture that perhaps is counter cultural to what you believe in. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m able to be in this culture and in this industry and fruitful because I don’t look to my circumstances to determine what I believe to be true about God. I don’t look to my situation to determine what choices I make. I’ve developed a good sense of values and beliefs. That’s my reality. No matter where I am, God is still good. No matter where I am, nothing is impossible. It’s those sort of principles that really anchor me. Over this past four years, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of not compartmentalizing my life. I take my core values and I live them out at home like I would in my snowboarding like I would at church with my friends. I’m willing to explore what that’s supposed to look like. I want to be intentional. I want it to show up in my life every day. I really try to live out my values and be consistent. Another things that has helped has been staying connected to a community of believers. It’s important to be around others that share your beliefs and share your values and people that can encourage you. We’re not meant to do it on our own. We’re meant to do life with God and with each other. I’ve been fortunate to have friends that are willing to invest in me even on the days when I’m not able to invest back into them. I’m thankful for people that have that selfless attitude and have helped me become a successful person and a successful athlete.

Bonham: Has having a platform within the snowboarding culture been a burden, a blessing or, at different times, both of those things?

Clark: I’ve always lived a life where what you see if what you get. I’ve never wanted to live two different lifestyles. The initial transition for me was perhaps the most difficult. It wasn’t easy communicating what I believed and what my values were. Establishing that as a young adult was interesting. I was 20 years old when I got saved. But now I’m more comfortable with my beliefs and with who I am. I honestly don’t think about it that much. I just try to live my life and I try to love people. I try to love God well and I try to love people well. Those are my main objectives.

Bonham: And that keeps it from becoming a burden.

Clark: Yeah, one of my approaches with my community, my friends, the companies I represent, has been to take the attitude of what I bring instead of what I can get. What can I give? Instead of thinking about building up my image or building up my brand or building up my career, I’ve turned it and taken the approach of focusing on what I can give instead of what I can get. It’s been a very enjoyable process for me. That’s more of a heart position that I’ve taken. It’s been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.

Bonham: Have you had opportunities to speak other athletes’ lives like that one that spoke into your life 10 years ago?

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014Clark: I feel like there is great purpose in a lot of my endeavors. I’ve seen God in the middle of them. I’ve seen Him be faithful in those things. But I strongly believe in that saying, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” That’s been my goal and objective—to love people well. That’s something I can bring to this community. As I’ve been open with my faith, there’s a consistency that almost disarms people. They know what they’re going to get when they see me. They know what they’re going to get when they talk to me. If there ever is a need or if anyone’s hurting, I’m the person they come to because they know what they’re going to get. They know I’ll pray for them. They know I’ll encourage them. It’s amazing that I get to be there for people. I’m sure I’ll hear later on how God was working in it all, but for me, it’s really about loving people well.

Bonham: What does being a four-time Olympian mean to you?

Clark: I never planned to be at the height of my career when I was 30 years old and going to my fourth Olympics. I watched the 1998 Olympics when I was 14 years old. That’s what I wanted to do with my life. I thought I might have a shot at three Olympics max. This is way beyond the parameters of what I set out to do. Right before they named the (2014) team, I stepped back and I allowed myself to realize what I had accomplished. I got overwhelmed and the tears came pretty quickly. It’s an honor to represent my country again and to represent my sport to the world and to hold it down for all those 30-year old athletes out there.

Follow Kelly Clark and Team USA by clicking HERE.

Photo Credit: NBC Olympics/USOC

A conversation with Heisman Trophy winner and former NBA star Charlie Ward

posted by Chad Bonham
Charlie Ward posing with the Heisman Trophy.

Charlie Ward posing with the Heisman Trophy.

Before there was Jameis Winston, there was another dual-threat quarterback at Florida State named Charlie Ward. It was 20 years ago when Ward won the Heisman Trophy and then led the Seminoles to its first national championship. Since Winston is likely destined for the NFL, that’s where the comparisons stop. Ward was surprisingly passed over in the 1994 NFL Draft.

That turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the three-sport athlete. Later that summer, he was a first-round draft pick in the NBA Draft and spent a productive 11 years in the league with the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. Most recently, Ward spent the last six seasons as the head football coach at Westbury Christian School in Houston before resigning this past December.

In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Ward talks about why he went to Florida State, how he navigated the tricky nature of being a three-sport athlete, and how adversity prepared him for big time college sports and the NBA:

Chad Bonham: What weighed in to your decision to go to Florida State?

CharlieWard_FSU1Charlie Ward: My decision on where to go to college was based on two things. First, I wanted to be close to home so I could be around my family and those who supported me in high school. Secondly, it was about Coach Bowden. I was attracted to his leadership, his integrity and his history of allowing guys to play two sports. I trusted his judgment and I trusted his heart because he had a heart for God. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Bonham: As a three-sport athlete, how did you approach your college and professional careers?

Ward: I graduated from college in December and had the option of playing Major League Baseball because the New York Yankees had drafted me. I also had the option of playing in the NFL and I had the option to play in the NBA. All of those were great options until April when one option was taken away. I didn’t get selected in the NFL draft. I had committed my time and efforts to my college basketball teammates. I decided to play basketball instead of concentrating on the NFL draft. God honored my commitment to my teammates by giving me an opportunity to play in the NBA. Looking back, when the NFL Draft passed and I didn’t get selected, I wasn’t down and disappointed like others in my house were. I knew that it wasn’t part of God’s plan for my life to go that direction. So I worked very hard for the NBA Draft and God blessed me the opportunity there.

Bonham: What helped you develop the drive and discipline to play three sports in high school and college?

Ward: I’ve always believed that when you have goals, you need to write them down and make them plain. Then, you’re able to see them and better understand what you need to do to accomplish those goals. More importantly, it takes prayer and fasting. Those things are important in finding what God has in store for your life. For me, a lot of that started back in high school. I wanted to make sure that every step of my life was pushing towards that dream. With every rep I did, I wasn’t saying, “I’m going to make it to the pros.” I was doing those things for right now. Everything I did in school had an effect on that moment. That “right now” attitude is what pushed me to get where I am now. I didn’t know 20 years ago that I would be doing what I’m doing now. But I was preparing myself then by going through those different experiences.

Bonham: You had some adversity as a teenager. How did you deal with it and how did it change your attitude about sports and school?

Ward: When I was in ninth grade, my dream was to play in the NFL or the NBA or Major League Baseball. But then I suffered a knee injury. Because of that injury, my relationship with Christ got stronger. That was part of my journey. Secondly, I started to focus more on academics. When I had my physical capabilities taken away, I realized I needed to pay better attention to that part of my life. I had been told to be well-rounded and to have something to fall back on, but that didn’t click until my injury.

Bonham: What were some of the keys to your success at Florida State and then in the NBA?

CharlieWard_Knicks Ward: One of the biggest keys is being around godly wisdom. For me, it came down to being able to trust the people that I was going to be around and who was going to be leading me. There were a lot of things that I didn’t know but I just had to prepare myself for the moment when God’s plan was finally revealed. I didn’t know we were going to win the national championship but I was fortunate to be in that position and I took advantage of it. I didn’t know I was going to win the Heisman Trophy. It was my goal. It was the goal of every kid, but I didn’t know it was going to happen. I just put myself in that position by working hard. A lot of times we don’t know what’s going to happen. We just need to have faith that God is going to give us the direction that we’re going to take. Sometimes you have to face adversity and fail in order for you get to where God is taking you. We might end up depending on ourselves too much and we need to learn to depend on Him.

Bonham: Your coaching journey has been pretty interesting—starting out in the NBA and most recently coaching football at a small private high school. What led to those career moves?

Ward: Stan Van Gundy gave me a chance to be on his staff with the Rockets. I’d never considered being a coach before that. I didn’t think that was part of God’s plan for my life. But I really started to enjoy it. Then I had the opportunity to coach JV basketball at Westbury Christian here in Houston before taking over as the head football coach there. As I reflect back on my life, it starts to make better sense to me. I had grown up around a coach. I was an athlete, so I was being coached all the time. And during my career, I was the quarterback and the point guard, which are extra coaches on the field or the court. I didn’t realize it, but God had been preparing me my whole life to be a coach. Coaching at a small school has been a blessing. It’s not about how much money you make. It’s about how you can have an effect on somebody’s life for Christ.

A conversation with New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday

posted by Chad Bonham
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans (photo courtesy of NBA Media Central)

Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans (photo courtesy of NBA Media Central)

It’s been an interesting year for New Orleans point guard Jrue Holiday. After a breakout season in Philadelphia, he was surprisingly traded to the newly renamed Pelicans right after the NBA Draft. Five days earlier, he married longtime girlfriend and fellow former UCLA athlete Lauren Cheney who, as a member of the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team, just happens to be an elite athlete in her own right.

Earlier this season, Inspiring Athletes had a chance to catch up with Holiday who talked about moving to New Orleans, being coached by Monty Williams (who shares the same Christian faith) and how he balances a 90-game NBA schedule with marriage to an equally busy sports star.

Chad Bonham: What was your initial reaction when you were sent to New Orleans in the sign-and-trade deal with Philadelphia?

Jrue Holiday: I was shocked. It was unexpected. But it literally took me about a minute after they named off the guys on the team and I was good. I think it was a blessing in disguise.

Bonham: Did you much about Coach Williams before you got to New Orleans?

Jrue Holiday: I knew that he was a good coach. He’s worked with some of the best point guards in this league. I just thought coming here was a blessing.

Bonham: What can you learn from the example that he has set as a Christian coach and someone who has a solid marriage despite the demands of this sport?

Jrue Holiday: He’s gotten through things because of his faith and that’s how I get through things too—leaning on my wife and leaning on God. You can get through anything with God.

Bonham: How has your relationship with your wife been good for you?

Jrue Holiday: My wife has helped me with a lot of things. She’s also got me to like a lot of different things like sushi. I never would have tried that if it weren’t for her. I also went to Hillsong (Church) in New York for the first time with her. It’s fun to experience new things with the person you love.

Bonham: How are you learning to balance between each others conflicting schedules?

Jrue Holiday: That’s where faith comes in. I’ve struggled more with being away from her. She keeps me strong. Being away from her means I have to stay in the Word and to stay strong throughout the season.

Bonham: How do you approach the opportunity that comes with a platform as big as being a starter in the NBA?

Holiday: I try to take it and leave it in God’s hands. I try to do what He wants me to do and come out here and perform the best I can for my teammates. That’s my responsibility. This is a tough league. Outside of basketball, the lifestyle is tough—the travel. Honestly, I think that responsibility is pretty tough but I don’t believe that God gives us anything we can’t handle.

Bonham: What is your leadership style? Are you a vocal encourager or someone who prefers to lead by example?

Holiday: I think I lead by example. I don’t talk much. I talk when it’s needed, but I just go out there and play hard every day and do it the right way.

Bonham: So in that regard, I suppose you could say the NBA locker room is more like a family?

Holiday: For sure. We’re on the road sometimes for five days at a time. We go out to eat together. We’ll go to the movies. It really is like family.

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