Inspiring Athletes

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Often referred to as “Spiderman” by fans and in the media, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Torii Hunter has legitimately earned the superhero nickname for his uncanny ability to climb walls and rob power hitters of would-be home runs. Need more proof? Look no further than his nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards and his four All-Star Game appearances.

Hunter’s no slouch at the plate either with over 1,000 RBI’s, over 1,700 hits and 266 home runs and counting. But even more impressive is his steady faith that guides him to make positive decisions on the field inner cities and his unwavering commitment to inner cities through the Torii Hunter Project Education Initiative. Here’s what Hunter had to say when asked about his core beliefs and how they impact his actions:

Torii Hunter (Photo by Jason Wise/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Bonham: What circumstances led you to a relationship with Christ?

Hunter: I was raised in the church by my grandmother who made sure we went to Sunday School, read the Bible and went to church every Sunday. Every night we read Bible stories before we went to bed. My mother also made sure we stayed involved in the church and the things of God. My relationship with Christ came about through that and the influences of my mother and grandmother helped my faith to grow.

Bonham: How does your faith define you as an athlete?

Hunter: With me being a Christian, I always think about what would Christ do in any circumstances. When I think about Christ’s life on earth, He worked hard. He was a carpenter. Christ lifted up his teammates, the disciples. Christ was always victorious. Christ left it all on the field. He died on the cross. And Christ always had a passion for whatever He was doing. That’s how I try to define myself as an athlete. That’s the example I try to follow.

Bonham: How does your faith help you deal with the highs and lows of the game?

Hunter: My faith is what makes me strong. Without faith, there are only low times. With faith, I know that everything will be taken care of. Even the difficult times become learning experiences to help make my faith stronger. And when everything is going good, that’s when I know God has rewarded me for my faith. When I rely on my faith, I know God wants to reward and bless me but not because of some great act that I did but because of who He is. And I have the faith that even at my lowest points, there will come a silver lining through faith.

Bonham: What do you want others to learn from your example?

Hunter: I want them to know that I try to walk like Christ in my life. If I strike out, I don’t curse, or throw my bat or hit things back in the dugout, I try to quietly just put my helmet back. I may be very upset but I try to control myself. Whether I’m down or whether things are great, I try to stay the same person all the time. I want my teammates to see that I’m following Christ. But, I’m also human, so there are times I slip and make mistakes but I know Christ forgives me.

Bonham: What are some passages in the Bible that inspire you?

Hunter: My favorite verse in the New Testament is John 3:16. As a Christian, that’s all you need to know. But my favorite book in the Bible is always Proverbs because it’s where you can find wisdom for no matter what you’re going through. It hits me every time I read it. I’ve always read Proverbs regularly because it helps me deal with what’s happening every day in real life.

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When you hear conversations about former Major League infielder Jay Bell, words like “steady,” “consistent” and “solid” are often thrown around. He wasn’t the flashiest player to grace the diamond and rarely put up gaudy numbers, yet his 18-year career that included stops in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Arizona and New York (with the Mets) yielded two All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove Award, a Silver Slugger Award and a World Series ring in 2001 with the Diamondbacks.

Since retiring in 2003, Bell has spent some time coaching but now works primarily in the non-profit realm for the Baseball Assistance Team while enjoying his family on a full-time basis. Known as one of his eras most well-respected Christian athletes, Bell shares his thoughts on key Bible principles and some watershed events in his Christian walk:

Bonham: What have been some pivotal moments in your spiritual journey?

Jay Bell

Bell: The first was when I got married. My wife and I really held each other accountable and ever since our marriage has been based on our relationship with Christ. I also relied on other strong Christian teammates like Andre Thornton, Brett Butler, Don Gordon and Chris Bando. Another pivotal moment happened in 1996. I was still holding on to the game very tightly. I was having a tough year and one game I remember grounding out and right at that moment as I was jogging back to the dugout I felt myself give the game up to the Lord. It wasn’t a magic formula. It didn’t allow me to get any more hits or score any more runs or be any more successful, it was just the fact that when I finally gave the game over to God, that was the point that I started enjoying the game for what it was in the good times and in the bad.

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

Bell: Philippians 2 talks about being imitators of Christ. That’s been the biggest thing for me. You learn it more as a coach than you do as a player. As a player you tend to go through Spring Training trying to do what you have to do to get ready for the season so you can have success and so the team can have success. As a player, you tend to be more concerned about yourself. You can still be a team player but there’s some selfishness that goes along with it. It’s not a bad selfishness. It’s a good selfishness. But still, you’re concerned about yourself.

As a coach, you’re not as concerned about yourself. You concern yourself with everybody but you. So the focus is different. Yet, in both situations, the key for me was not looking at my interest but thinking of others as higher than myself, and making sure that my attitude was the same as the attitude of Jesus. I always tried to be as humble as I possibly could. Those were also the types of players that I was drawn to like John Smoltz and Tom Glavine and Jeff King.

Bonham: What is your approach to evangelism?

Bell: There are multiple facets to evangelism. Baseball players and coaches live together for about 200 days out of the year. You have a platform with these guys. But they see you and they know you well. You have to earn the right to share Christ with these guys. You don’t want to beat them over the head with a Bible. But you want to make sure that you’re living out the Bible every day. When those opportunities come, then you can share the Bible and God’s Word vocally. You want to be prepared for that.

Bonham: What do you tell young athletes about the dangers of being wrapped up in performance like you once were?

Bell: What I tell my kids and what I tell young players is that you only have one name. You want to make sure you can maintain the integrity of that name. Because once you lose it, you lose it for good. The odds of you getting it back are extremely slim. If you’re name is important to you, then you should do everything you can possibly do to preserve it.

Bonham: What’s your favorite Bible verse?

Bell: Philippians 2:5-8. This is what a Christian walk should look like. It doesn’t mean you have to be meek. You just need to be humble. As an athlete, you want to try to win. You want to do everything you can do to win but there needs to be a humility that comes with that in order to really allow people to look at you and see that there’s something you’ve got that they want. It’s not about the game. It’s not about anything else. It’s about how a solid believer conducts himself when people are watching.

Join us tomorrow for a conversation with Los Angeles Angels outfielder and nine-time Gold Glove award winner Torii Hunter.

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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.

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)

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