Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

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.

Danny Wuerffel fights rare autoimmune disease

posted by Chad Bonham

For a lot of reasons, I was hit particularly hard upon hearing the recent news that Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL quarterback Danny Wuerffel is fighting Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that causes paralysis. You can read more details about his situation here.

Florida Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel won the 1996 Heisman Trophy.

Danny is one of the greatest examples of servant leadership that I’ve ever met. He is the executive director of Desire Street Ministries and someone who has always put others’ needs before his own. Desire Street was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but Wuerffel led the charge to restore the ministry. During the summer of 2009, I was blessed to lead a group of young people to New Orleans to help with cleanup projects as Desire Street worked towards a reopening of all facilities.

Another reason Danny’s condition hits me is because we are both the father of three. I’m sure his faith is being challenged as he not only considers his personal health but also the security and well-being of his children. I’m writing this post, however, for two primary reasons:

1. Pray for Danny Wuerffel, his family and the people of Desire Street Ministries.

2. Believe that God has something special already planned out through this situation. I base that statement on my firm belief in Romans 8:28.

The Inspirational Sports Report: Waltrip gets into NASCAR’s HOF, Edwards nabs Pro Stock victory in Bristol and Thomas leads Bruins to the Cup

posted by Chad Bonham

It was another busy week of sports that started with the Mavericks’ defeat of the All-Star stacked Miami Heat for the NBA title and ended with Northern Irish phenom Rory McIlroy destroying the PGA field at the Congressional and becoming the youngest winner in U.S. Open history. Here are a few notes from this week’s Inspirational Sports Report:

Darrell Waltrip inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame’s latest class

It happened a little later than many expected, but NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip was finally voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a member of the organization’s third class. He will be officially inducted next January along with Dale Inman, Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough and Richie Evans.

Waltrip currently serves as a race analyst for Fox Sports and as a show co-host for SPEED but was recognized by the Hall for his 84 Cup wins and three championships. Waltrip was excited when his name was announced, but as he told me last fall, it means nothing without his faith in God.

“At some point, we’ve all realized there’s a lot more in life than just winning races,” Waltrip told me. “I hear that a lot. As I was becoming successful, I’d listen to other athletes and they’d say, ‘Well I had it all, but there was something missing.’ There’s always that, ‘There’s something missing.’ It’s that void you have in your life when you don’t know the Lord.”

You can read the full interview with Waltrip by clicking here.

Mike Edwards pulls off NHRA Pro Stock three-peat at Bristol

NHRA Pro Stock veteran Mike Edwards picked up his second win of the season, 30th of his career and third consecutive at Bristol Dragway by defeating Erica Enders in the finals of the Thunder Valley Nationals yesterday.

Edwards crossed the finish line in 6.685 at 205.79 mile per hour in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP. The 2009 series champion also jumped up to second in points and now trails Jason Line by just 24 points. But Edwards maintains that his work with Young Life, a popular national youth ministry that allows teens from every race city to attend special events hosted by Edwards’ team, is far more important.

“Life’s all about Christ,” Edwards told me. “It’s not about winning races. I want people to think of me as somebody who stands up for Christ even in an environment that’s pretty brutal at times. I want to stand out from all the other drivers.”

Be looking for more from my interview with Edwards in an upcoming Q&A right here on Inspiring Athletes.

Tim Thomas is rock solid in goal for Stanley Cup champion Bruins

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas not only had a career year, he was a huge part of his team’s Stanley Cup championship against the Vancouver Canucks that concluded in game seven last Wednesday night. Thomas was selected the Conn Smythe Trophy winner given to the playoff MVP and became just the second American-born NHL player to do so. Thomas also became the oldest winner of the award at 37 years, 62 days.

Off the ice, Thomas is a faithful member of the Church of Christ in Burlington, Mass. His brother Jake is a youth pastor in Mission, Texas.

Come back tomorrow for a Tuesday Conversation with Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Matt Diaz. Also this week, interviews with NHL star Jarome Iginla, former MLB infielder Jay Bell and Los Angeles outfielder Torii Hunter.

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