Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

A conversation with NHL All-Star Jarome Iginla

posted by Chad Bonham

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Jarome Iginla (Photo courtesy of Calgary Flames)

In 14 seasons, Iginla has appeared in six All-Star Games, led the league in scoring once and set Calgary records for goals, points and games played. On the ice, he’s also known as one the NHL’s fiercest competitors.

But when the Calgary Flames right wing unlaces his skates, he is perhaps just as notorious for being one of the game’s nicest guys. Iginla participates in many community events and donates $2,000 to charity for every goal he scores. In this interview, he talks about his unique upbringing, being black in the NHL and how a troubling question drew him closer to God:

Chad Bonham: You’ve won two Olympic gold medals for Canada, but I would imagine that first one at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 must have been pretty special since it broke a 50-year drought for your home country.

Jarome Iginla donates $2,000 to charity for every goal he scores (Photo courtesy of Calgary Flames)

Jarome Iginla: That’s one the best experiences I’ve had in hockey. I got a chance to play with Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman and Joe Sacik. It’s a big adjustment. You go from playing against them to seeing your jersey hanging in the same room as theirs. It was difficult not to be in awe. Then we ended up winning the tournament. I remember the first day showing up and seeing all those jerseys hanging and seeing mine over in the corner. I was one of the younger guys and I had a makeshift area because there weren’t enough lockers. But it was a huge thrill and I think I probably took a picture or something.

The gold medal game against the U.S. team probably the most exciting game I’ve been a part of. It was so fast. The fans were so passionate. Half of them were American fans and the other half was Canadian. They were going at it the whole game. It was such a good game. You get on the ice and go as hard as you can. You don’t have time to be nervous. You get off the ice and you’re nervous again because you’re watching as a fan. You want to win the gold medal so bad. It turned out the way we wanted it to turn out. It was every emotion—nervousness, excitement and adrenaline—all in one game.

Bonham: Tell me about your unique upbringing.

Iginla with his mother Susan Schuchard

Iginla: My parents divorced when I was one year old. (My mother has) always been Buddhist so that’s a little unique. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of other friends that had Buddhist parents. So, yeah there was (some confusion). My mom was very good about it. She was very open. In that area I had a lot of questions because (Buddhists) do believe in different things. She didn’t force it on me by any means.

Bonham: When did you first start to get serious about your Christian faith?

Iginla: My dad was raised Muslim but became a Christian after moving from Africa to Canada. I’ve always believed in God but I remember one time I was traveling on a juniors hockey trip and my roommate asked me, “What if there is no God? What if you die and it’s just black?” I just kept telling him, “No, there has to be a God!” But he got me thinking and it actually scared me for a little bit. I’d never really thought about it that deep. It was just from what I’d read. I’d never thought about it personally. So that bothered me and I tried not to think about that for a while. About a year later, I went to my dad to talk about it. He told me I should ask God to take my fears away. If I felt peace after praying, I would have proof that God exists. That’s probably my defining moment. I’m peaceful with that (question) now. That was probably the most bothersome question that I can ever remember asking myself. When my dad told me that, it was probably the start of my own personal relationship. My dad has always been the biggest influence on my faith.

Bonham: As one of the longer-standing black athletes in the NHL that has less than 30 currently playing, do you feel like a trailblazer for others pursuing opportunities in professional hockey?

Iginla gets his teammates ready for action (Photo courtesy of Calgary Flames)

Iginla: When I grew up, I was the only black kid on my team. I was aware of that. I really was. I was very fortunate. My teammates were always great. But sometimes there’d be a small incident here or there with another team or with some parents in the crowd. Some kids would say, “Why are you trying to be in the NHL? There’s no black players in the NHL.” I remember those questions back then and honestly, it meant so much to me to be able to say, “Oh yeah, there are black players in the NHL.” Grant Fuhr at the time was starring in Edmonton and winning Stanley Cups and he was an All-Star. Then I did try to pick out as many black players in the NHL so I could have somebody. I watched Claude Vilgrain who played in New Jersey or Tony McKegney. I am proud to be a black player in the NHL. I know how much those other guys meant to me so maybe there’s kids that are having similar questions asked of them or maybe they’re having some tough times. It would be an honor if I was at all a role model for kids that want to play in the NHL.

Inspiring Athletes: A look back at some things you may have missed

posted by Chad Bonham

In case you’ve missed anything these past few weeks, Inspiring Athletes has been bringing you some pretty amazing interviews with athletes and coaches from across the sports world including some fairly significant high-profile names. A quick way to catch up is to take a look at some of these interviews that have been posted since the blog launched in May.

Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Richard Petty (NASCAR Hall of Fame legend)

Darrell Waltrip (NASCAR Hall of Fame legend)

Rickie Fowler (PGA golfer)

Trevor Bayne (2011 Daytona 500 Champion)

And please click “Like” on every page so you can send these article to all of your friends!

Also, check out my Christian music blog Whole Notes including a recent interview with Switchfoot’s Jerome Fontamillas.

Trevor Bayne still the same after Daytona victory

posted by Chad Bonham

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SPECIAL REPORT: Trevor Bayne

It was just last October when Michael Waltrip Racing dropped 19-year old Nationwide Series driver Trevor Bayne over sponsorship issues. Even though Bayne was ranked seventh in points and was clearly one of NASCAR’s rising stars, the Knoxville, Tenn., native found himself looking for a new ride just days before the race in Kansas.

Bayne never lost hope and was quickly picked up by Roush-Fenway for whom he will drive throughout the 2011 season. Even then, few had heard of Bayne outside of NASCAR’s media circles and the sports most hardcore fans.

That all changed this past Sunday when Bayne shocked the stock car racing world and became a household name with his improbable victory at the Daytona 500. He did so driving the #21 car for the legendary Woods Brothers.

“This just shows you how powerful God is,” Bayne told ESPN in Victory Lane after the spectacular finish.

Even Carl Edwards, whom Bayne masterfully blocked all the way to the finish line, was compelled to heap mounds of praise on the kid that outraced him.

“Trevor Bayne is a good guy,” Edwards told ESPN. “He’s a cool guy.”

Trevor Bayne (Photo courtesy NASCAR)

Bayne celebrated his 20th birthday a day earlier but has turned the life-changing experience into something much more than a self-indulgent moment. Bayne, who earned just over $1.4 million with the victory, traveled to Mexico during the offseason to work with orphans through Back2Back Ministries and he made sure to use his platform to raise awareness for the cause.

“Hopefully this money will help us get some more races, and there are a lot of foundations and ministries that need support,” Bayne told reporters. “Back2Back Ministries in Mexico is one, and there are a lot of good organizations that need some help, and we will help them out as much as we can.”

Personally, Bayne’s reaction and response were no big surprise. NASCAR chaplains and his fellow drivers alike have only had great things to say about his faith in God and his steadfast desire to live it out in a very real way.In fact, Bayne meets every Saturday morning just before Nationwide qualifying for a Bible study with some of his fellow Christian peers such as Justin Allgaier, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell. He is also a regular attendee of weekly services hosted by Motor Racing Outreach.

“It’s awesome to have MRO here, to have believers and followers, most importantly followers,” Bayne told me last October. “That’s been a core support for me because we’re not home on the weekends. A lot of times we get back late. We try to get back to church as much as we can, but the Cup races are on Sunday. It’s good to have that support here.”

Bayne was raised in various Baptist and Methodist churches but also likes to attend a non-denominational house of worship in Mooresville, NC as well. And as many saw on Sunday (and will continue to see throughout this season), Bayne’s infectious smile and boy-next-door attitude is a true reflection of what’s in his heart.

“I want to be real,” Bayne told me. “I don’t want to pose as anything. I don’t want to pose as a tough guy. I don’t want to pose as a nice guy. Whatever Trevor Bayne is, that’s what I’m going to be. Staying humble is the key to this. I try to let that shine through. This can be gone in a second.”

Inspiring Athletes will be posting a full interview with Bayne in the near future.

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Matt Diaz on eternal perspective, evangelism and giving it everything he’s got

posted by Chad Bonham

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this interview was originally posted, Diaz has returned to the Atlanta Braves.

Somehow, you’d think having just under a .300 career batting average might qualify a Major League player for superstar status. But somehow, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Matt Diaz (pronounced DIE-az) has spent nine seasons well below the radar. And that’s okay with him.

Diaz, who happens to be the brother of national Christian recording artist Jonny Diaz, is happy to be a productive team player and more importantly someone whom teammates and fans alike can look to as an example of God’s love. In this interview, Diaz talks to me about eternal perspective, evangelism and exemplifying Christ by giving everything he’s got on the field:

Bonham: How did you become a Christian?

Diaz: I grew up in a ministry family. My dad was a preacher. I received Christ at a Dawson McCallister meeting when I was 13 years old, but I didn’t ask Him to be my Lord until I was 19. I remember when I was unpacking luggage and settling into in my college dorm. I saw a Bible my mom had packed for me. Everything I read that night hit me in the face. I randomly opened it to the passages in Revelation about being lukewarm. I realized that I had been living lukewarm. I wanted the best of both worlds. I wanted to fit in. And there’s nothing wrong with fitting in if it’s within God’s will, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the things that I wanted. That’s when my faith became real to me.

Bonham: What is a biblical principle that guides your life?

Matt Diaz (Photo by David Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Diaz: What I love about the Bible is that it’s a group of stories but it’s all telling one main story. It’s about Jesus Christ. The story is not about me. That takes a lot of the pressure off me, but it also puts the responsibility on me to point people to who the true story is about. It’s given me an eternal perspective on things. With baseball, it helps because I know that this isn’t all there is in life. If I have a great game, I don’t get too high. If I have a terrible game, I don’t get too low. I know that there’s more to this life and we were created for more than just to play a game.

Bonham: What’s your favorite Bible verse?

Diaz: Philippians 1:6. “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” That goes back to that eternal perspective. God has made some promises and He’s never broken one yet. I get to live assured that He’s going to keep His promises. It has to be (my favorite verse). I have it tattooed on my left arm. My wife would kill me if I said anything else. It’s a daily reminder. That was the only way I could get the tattoo.

Bonham: How do you deal with the ups and downs of baseball?

Diaz: I’ve been sent down to the minor leagues six or seven times in my career. You’ve just got to have that stability. It’s huge. It’s comforting. And it’s reassuring. To be part of something in this world that’s constantly changing like baseball, it’s awesome to have your hope anchored in something that’s so stable.

Bonham: How do you approach your call as a Christian to reach out to those who don’t believe in Jesus?

Diaz: We Christians sometimes think we need a plan for evangelism. I don’t think Jesus had an evangelism plan. I think He just interacted with the people He came into contact with. That’s what I try to do. I just try to find ways to love the people that I’m around. It’s hard sometimes because I’m selfish and I want to focus inwardly but when I can fight against that and look at other people’s needs, it’s really a stark contrast to what people are used to in such a selfish environment. It’s really an effective evangelism tool. Who would have known that Jesus knew what He was talking about?

Bonham: Does the fact that fans are watching and know you are a Christian change the way you conduct your business?

Diaz: If I break up a double play with a hard slide, people will say, “What would Jesus do?” I’ll tell them, “He would have planted them into the outfield wall.” My Jesus cleared the temple too. That doesn’t mean He lost His cool. It was calculated and He did what He needed to be done to represent His Father. Jesus is my role model and He is whom I try to follow. Everything I do, I know I’m representing Him. Does it mean I do it well all the time? No. But I do ask for forgiveness for the times I bring Him a bad name.

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