Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

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 places 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 be 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—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.

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

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