Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

A conversation with Interstate Batteries CEO Norm Miller

posted by Chad Bonham
Norm Miller, Interstate Batteries CEO

Norm Miller, Interstate Batteries CEO

It’s been almost 40 years since Norm Miller hit rock bottom—not in the business world mind you, but in his personal life. That’s when he cried out to God and started a new journey of spiritual renewal that now transcends every part of his life.

Miller has used his platform and influence as Interstate Batteries CEO to impact the motorsports world where he is one of the primary sponsors for Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch’s #18 NASCAR Sprint Cup racing team. More recently, Miller has become the driving force behind an evangelistic video series called “I Am Second,” a campaign that also serves as a sponsor for NHRA Pro Stock driver Mike Edwards.

In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Miller talks about his radical transformation, his love for motorsports, the inspiration behind “I Am Second,” and how he approaches evangelism as one of America’s most successful CEOs:

Chad Bonham: You had a pretty dramatic experience that led to your Christian conversion. What led up to that moment?

Norm Miller: I was raised up in a wild party town of Galveston, Texas, which had everything that was illegal (elsewhere). It had liquor by the drink, which was illegal in the state of Texas. It had open prostitution and wide-open gambling. That’s where I grew up. So I started drinking and partying at the young age of 14 years old. I thought that was what life was all about—have a party and have fun. I got out of college and set some goals for myself and made them ahead of time. But as my life progressed, I wasn’t happy. I was empty and actually anxious about life and failure. My drinking problem crescendoed on me. I had two DWI’s. In the midst of all of that, I climbed the ladder of success but it was on the wrong wall. One morning, I just blurted out, “God help me! I can’t handle it!” And He did. I started going to AA for a couple of months. Then a friend came to me and started to tell me about Christ and how the Bible was God’s Word. It was given to man exactly as He intended it. So I said, “Well, prove that to me.” So he brought me some books. I didn’t read the Bible. I started reading about it. I wanted to see if a person could embrace it with their brain, intellectually, as true. I went into an apologetics study about archeology and antique manuscripts and fulfilled prophecy and changed lives, and I thought, “This thing has got a lot of basis.” So I decided to see what it had to say about me. I went through the scriptures like Romans 3:23 and realized that I was a sinner. I knew I was a sinner. I didn’t have any problem with that. Then I read that Christ was God’s only begotten Son who died for me. I read the scriptures in Galatians where the fruits of the spirit are peace, love and joy. I looked at that and thought, “Man that’s what I want.” If I can get peace, love and joy, then I’ve got it. So then I wanted to know how to get the Spirit. Then I learned that when you receive Christ as your Savior as repayment for your sins through confession that God would put His Spirit in your heart and help you live the rest of your life here and then eternally. So I prayed one night. That was in 1974. I’ve been trying to honor Him and walk with Him ever since.

Bonham: What led you to get involved with motorsports?

Miller: I first got (Interstate Batteries) involved with the Great American Race. We actually co-founded that race in 1982. It was an antique car race across the country that first ran in 1983 and went through 1996.

Bonham: What attracted you to NASCAR?

Miller: I was trying to buy advertising cheaper than the normal way. I wasn’t a race fan. I hadn’t actually been to a race until we started running in the lower level series. We ran with Stanley Smith in the All-American Series. But I looked at it as a way to get more advertising and promotion than I could buy with the normal advertising dollar. When you get in there your competitive juices get going and you want to win. When you start competing against these other people, you start to learn more about it and you get to meet more people. You build relationships.

Bonham: How did get connected with Joe Gibbs?

Norm Miller (far right) and Joe Gibbs (standing) during the 2011 Sprint Media Tour (Photo courtesy NASCAR Media)

Norm Miller (far right) and Joe Gibbs (standing) during the 2011 Sprint Media Tour (Photo courtesy NASCAR Media)

Miller: Joe decided he was going to go racing. He talked to (former Motor Racing Outreach president) Max Helton and asked him if he knew some good honorable people that would want to get into racing. Max didn’t know us personally but he’d heard that my brother and I were decent people. So Joe called us directly. We’d already been running with Stanley Smith and we’d seen the response and even ran in some Winston Cup races because some fellow came to Stanley and offered him four Cup rides. And of course, Stanley came to us and asked if we’d be interested in sponsoring his car. One thing led to another and we ran those four races. Joe didn’t even know we were in it and somehow saw our car. So one day at work, I was down the hall and my secretary came down and said, “You have a phone call. He says he’s Joe Gibbs and he wants to talk to you.” I started to walk back to my office and said, “Oh that’s a bunch of bull. That’s just a friend of mine messing with me. I’ll get it.” And I picked up the phone and it was really Joe. From there, we had meetings with Joe and knew even then that our constituency liked NASCAR. That went all the way from our distributors to our employee base and the consumers and the dealers. We have thousands of dealers across the country and they loved it. When we first met, I told them that, at that stage in my life, I didn’t want to do anything that was going to occupy my time if I didn’t think we could lift up Christ doing it. He told me I’d hit his button right on the money. We locked hearts at the time. I could tell that we had an openness between us. The relationship has gone on like that since we first met. Besides that, our wives got together and they hit it off. You don’t make a whole lot of close friends after you’re 50 or 60 years old. But we did and the four of us have become even closer over the years.

Bonham: What was the inspiration behind “I Am Second?”

IAmSecondMiller: It’s just a crazy thing. I do a devotional in the mornings. It’s the Oswald Chambers book My Utmost For His Highest. It has 365 devotions. In 1996, I started writing down the year and where I was. In March of ’08, I wrote down my notes and I realized that my birth date was 1938. I realized I was going to be 70 that coming summer. An interesting thing took place because I thought about three scores 10. That’s what the scripture says is the deal. You never know when you’re going to die, but I thought, “I don’t know how long I’m going to be living here.” The next thing that came to my mind was the scripture that talks about how, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Samaria and Judea and all parts of the earth.” I had the thought that North Texas is my Jerusalem and I wondered to myself, “Have I gone for broke to lift up Christ in this area?” I’d been involved in a lot of things like the Jesus Film and other evangelistic outreaches like Billy Graham and Luis Palau, but I hadn’t really gone for broke. So I went to a group called E3 Partners. There was a gentleman there who was a national advertising guy and I asked him to come up with a media campaign that would glorify the name of Jesus. He came back to me with the “I Am Second” concept. In April of 2008, we started doing interviews with Joe Gibbs, Tony Dungy, Stephen Baldwin, Josh Hamilton and Jason Witten and we launched the website that December. At first, I was just thinking of my Jerusalem. But God was thinking about the whole world. In six weeks, we had thousands of hits on the sites and they were staying on the site over eight minutes and they were already in 70 countries. It’s crazy. Today, we’ve had over seven million hits. They still average over seven minutes on the site and we’re in over 220 countries. It just keeps growing exponentially. It went way beyond what any of us thought it would.

Bonham: What is the secret to effectively professing faith in the corporate world?

Kyle Busch drove the #18 Interstate Batteries car to Victory Lane NASCAR Sprint Cup at the Texas Motor Speedway NRA 500 on April 13, 2013 (Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)

Kyle Busch drove the #18 Interstate Batteries car to Victory Lane NASCAR Sprint Cup at the Texas Motor Speedway NRA 500 on April 13, 2013 (Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)

Miller: It’s really interesting because I can’t recall a time that I’ve been attacked (for my faith). When I first became a Christian, I didn’t know what that was going to look like at the job. The scripture came to mind that says we are to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and your mind.” And I wondered how that would flesh out, and I just kept thinking about how I needed to tell people about Christ. That’s been my heart’s drive. As I got more successful in the business and people knew I was a Christian, I started to get more involved in speaking. I decided I would just give my testimony and try to lead people to Christ. But I didn’t like speaking. I felt nervous doing it, but if He wanted me to do it, I would do it. Before that, I had only been asked twice and I got asked six more times in the next 10 days. So one week, I took 30 hours and I worked up my testimony as if I would be making a presentation. From then on, if anyone has asked me and if I could do, I’ve just done it. And I love it. I love the chance to talk to men and tell them that this is the truth of life. This isn’t some concoction. So the secret is to be like the great prophet Nike: Just Do It.

Check out the entire I Am Second series by visiting the official website HERE.

A conversation with NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett

posted by Chad Bonham
NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Ned Jarrett (Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)

NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Ned Jarrett (Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)

In NASCAR’s rough and tumble era of the 1950s and 1960s, Hall of Fame inductee Ned Jarrett stood out due to his understated personality and polite demeanor. Perhaps that’s why the media often referred to him as “Gentlemen Ned” and looked at him as one of the sport’s original statesmen.

After winning two Cup championships, Jarrett shocked the racing world by retiring in his prime. He went on to have a stellar broadcasting career and gained additional notoriety as Cup champion Dale Jarrett’s father.

These days, Jarrett enjoys reminiscing over his glory days on the track and a faith movement that he helped pioneer.

In this Inspiring Athletes conversation, Jarrett talks about his beginning in the sport, the prevalent nature of moonshine during those early days and how faith has evolved amongst the NASCAR community:

Chad Bonham: How did you first get interested in stockcar racing?

Ned Jarrett: My dad had taken me to some races in the area here (in Newton, North Carolina) at some dirt track events and made a racing man out of me. Then they started building a track about eight or 10 miles from the farm (in Hickory). It was a big thing for the community because there were very few forms of entertainment. You had a couple movie theaters in town and high school sports and that was about it. Having a racetrack, that was a big thing. You’d go down to the country store on a rainy day when you couldn’t work on the farm and these farmers and saw millers would be sitting around talking, “Boy, wait ‘til they get that thing built. I’ll go up there and show ‘em how to drive.” Secretly I thought, “Wow, I want to do that.”

Bonham: How aware were you of the moonshine connection within the sport?

Factory Ford driver Ned Jarrett won the Southern 500 in 1965, beating Buck Baker's Plymouth (No. 86) by 14 laps, the widest margin of victory in NASCAR Cup Series history. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

Factory Ford driver Ned Jarrett won the Southern 500 in 1965, beating Buck Baker’s Plymouth (No. 86) by 14 laps, the widest margin of victory in NASCAR Cup Series history. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

Jarrett: Once I got into racing, I knew of people who were involved. In fact, it seemed like back in those days, a big percentage of the drivers were involved in moonshine, one way or another. That’s one of the reasons why my dad did not want me to drive racecars. He didn’t think that it would be good for the image that he had worked so hard to build his family and the respect that he tried to build in the community. He couldn’t see where my participation with the moonshiners could add to the image that he had worked so hard to build. He felt like it might tear down the image. He wasn’t against those people. There were a lot of good people who were involved in moonshine. They worked hard at it. He didn’t talk against them, but he didn’t want his sons involved in it. There was a reputation that came with (moonshine). And the biggest part of that reputation was they were doing something that was against the law. They were breaking the law. I don’t know that my dad or anyone else looked at them as big sinners. They just had a different way of making a living. For some of them, it was the only way they knew. It was just something that sort of accepted. It’s not that my dad wouldn’t associate with them, but he just didn’t want me involved in a sport that didn’t have a very good image back then, especially when so many of the participants were involved in moonshine.

Bonham: You were one of the few outspoken Christians during the late 1950s and early 1960s. What was the atmosphere like within the sport for you and other believers?

Jarrett: I never felt any animosity as a result of being a Christian. I never tried to hide the fact that I was a Christian but I also didn’t try to push it on anyone else. Whatever beliefs they had, that was their business and the beliefs that I had was my business. I never felt that anyone felt badly towards me because I was a Christian. I didn’t try to hide it, but I didn’t try to get up and preach because I wasn’t capable of doing that. I don’t think God put me on the earth for that or He would have led me in a different direction.

Bonham: Why did you retire at such a young age?

Class of 2011 Inductee Ned Jarrett (L) and Dale Jarrett (R) pose prior to the 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the Charlotte Convention Center on May 23, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Class of 2011 Inductee Ned Jarrett (L) and Dale Jarrett (R) pose prior to the 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the Charlotte Convention Center on May 23, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jarrett: There were a number of reasons that I got out as early as I did. One was that I vowed to myself early on that however far up the ladder I got, I would quit while I was there and not go down the other side. People have a tendency to remember the last thing you did and I didn’t want them to remember me as a has-been. Also, we didn’t know how long we could continue to race and how old we could be and continue to race and be effective. We were comparing ourselves to athletes in other sports. You get in your mid-30s and you start losing some of that athletic ability. I was 34 and although I felt like I still had some years left in me, I had broken my back the year before in ’65, but I continued to drive through that and won the championship. I don’t say that boastfully but that’s the way it was. I felt physically fit to continue on in ’66 and then Ford pulled out and it made me step back and take a look at the lack of security there was in the sport, for one thing. I was also missing out on a lot of things that my children had going on in their lives and I wanted to be a part of it. My daughter (Patti) was six years old. Dale was nine years old. My oldest son Glenn was fifteen. They were at the stages of their lives where they had a lot of things going on. I couldn’t be a part of their lives as long as I was running all over the country driving race cars. That factored into it as well.

Bonham: How would you compare your era to the current era where so many young drivers are openly sharing their faith?

Jarrett: It’s very different from when I was driving but it’s very refreshing. I love to see it. I happened to be at Daytona when Trevor Bayne won. I went to Victory Lane and I’d never met him. It’s great to see that. It certainly is a sharp contrast to the days when I was racing. But you’ve got a different platform now then we had back in those days. There was no television and very few media members that were there and those media members were either not Christians or they didn’t talk about it either and they wouldn’t write about it. I don’t recall many stories that were written about me being a Christian while driving racecars. What little that was written about the sport back then, they would write about what the driver was doing on the racetrack. There were some complimentary articles written about me being a family man and those kinds of things over the years, which I really appreciated. But as far as digging deep into my faith, I don’t recall much of that going on.

Bonham: Why do you think NASCAR has become so friendly and open to the idea of public expressions of faith and ministry at the track through organizations like Motor Racing Outreach?

NASCAR Hall of Fame member Ned Jarrett poses beside his 1964 #11 Ford Galaxy, during the Hall of Honor unveiling at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on May 24, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jason Smith/ Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR Hall of Fame member Ned Jarrett poses beside his 1964 #11 Ford Galaxy, during the Hall of Honor unveiling at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on May 24, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jason Smith/ Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jarrett: The sport has always been pictured as a family sport, starting with the France family. I think the family image has been and has become even more important to NASCAR as years have passed. If the families are made up of down-to-earth type people—fun-loving, God-fearing people—then I think that has certainly helped. That image has grown and NASCAR is more interested now in seeing it grow more. I think they like that and they should. I feel that has helped to open doors for Christianity and faith in the sport. It’s good to see that (NASCAR is) actually encouraging the things that go on in the sport and the work that God’s doing in the sport.

This is a just a small portion of a longer interview conducted with Ned Jarrett for an upcoming Judson Press book called Faith in the Fast Lane set to release in January of 2014. This book chronicles NASCAR’s rich faith story and include additional commentary from legendary drivers such as Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, Darrell Waltrip and Phil Parsons.

A conversation with NASCAR driver Sam Hornish Jr.

posted by Chad Bonham
Sam Hornish Jr. (Photo by John Harrelson/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Sam Hornish Jr. (Photo by John Harrelson/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The Nationwide Series isn’t the exact place Sam Hornish Jr., wanted to be for the 2013 season, but you won’t ever hear the Defiance, Ohio, native complain. As a former Indy Car champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, Hornish Jr., is just happy to be getting a shot at one of NASCAR’s premier racing titles.

After capturing the aptly named Sam’s Town 300 in Las Vegas earlier this season, Hornish Jr., has established himself as a legitimate threat to capture the Nationwide crown. In this interview, the driver of the #12 Penske Racing car talks about the infamous wreck at Daytona earlier this year, why Christian faith is so visible in NASCAR and how his kids are impacted by ministry at the track:

Chad Bonham: You narrowly escaped the nasty wreck at the season opener in Daytona this year. What do you remember about the way that race ended?

Sam Hornish: When you run these Nationwide cars at a place like Daytona with the tandem drafting we have going on right now, there’s not a lot that you can see. I was pushing the 33 car and all I could see was his rear spoiler. The rear spoiler goes up high enough to where you can’t see through his car at all. So I’m putting a lot of faith in my spotter that he’s going to tell me when something happens with the cars in front of me. Everything happened so quick and he just told me that the people that were one and two were getting together. About the time he said that, the 33 turned hard left and I went from seeing the tail lights of the 33 to seeing the tail lights of the 22 in just a matter of a few ten thousandths of a second. I did my best to stay away from him and ended up getting into the back of the 22. They were already wrecking. We were lucky at that point to graze off someone who was basically out of control. I was trying to hold on to my car because in trying to avoid hitting him, I hit the grass and that sent my car sideways. Once I got to the start finish line, I just locked the brakes down and couldn’t do much. I didn’t see anything that happened behind me but I watched the replay on a TV from pit road. That’s when I knew it was obviously pretty bad.

Bonham: What was your initial thought when you saw the wreckage make its way to the grandstands?

Sam Hornish Jr., celebrates his win at the 2013 Sam's Town 300 in Las Vegas (Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)

Sam Hornish Jr., celebrates his win at the 2013 Sam’s Town 300 in Las Vegas (Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)

Hornish: We know the risks of drivers. Racing is very much a reactive sport. But you never imagine that something could happen to the fans. They try to make things safe with the fences but a lot of the reason so much debris got through the fence is because of the walkway there that the fans use to go out on to the front straightaway before the race starts. Those are things you can’t do if you’re a fan of another sport. You don’t get to walk on the football field before a game starts. That’s part of what makes racing such a popular sport for the fans. But unfortunately that example of being fan friendly is probably what got people hurt.

Bonham: NASCAR is perhaps more outward in its embrace of the Christian faith than any other pro sport. How do you explain that?

Hornish: I think a lot of our fans are generally Christians. Our country was initially founded on faith and I think we need to keep all of those things in NASCAR. I don’t know how all the drivers feel about it but I know there are a lot of guys in the Nationwide Series that go to chapel. There are all sorts of Bible studies going on. I know where I stand in my beliefs and I think the prayer before the race is a great thing.

Bonham: With two young daughters, how important is the ministry that Motor Racing Outreach provides to kids at the track?

Sam Hornish Jr. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)

Sam Hornish Jr. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)

Hornish: It’s awesome to have that there. At Daytona, my little girl made a “Joy Journal” with all the things she’s thankful for. She’s all about saying her prayers before bedtime. Both my girls enjoy going over there and playing and going to Bible school. Sometimes they’re over there from nine a.m., in the morning until eight at night. They have an Easter egg hunt. They do Father’s Day and Mother’s Day activities. They have a Fall Festival. It’s a great thing to have.

Bonham: Why is charity such an important part of your life as a professional athlete?

Hornish: I’ve been very blessed. When much is given, much is expected. I want to be able to give back. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve got two healthy kids, a healthy wife. I might have had some setbacks career wise, but at the end of the day, I’m pretty far ahead of the game. I should want to help people. That’s part of the deal. I enjoy it. I’m glad that I have an opportunity to do that.

This interview with Sam Hornish Jr., was one of over 50 conducted for a Judson Press book called Faith in the Fast Lane set to release in January of 2014. This book chronicles NASCAR’s rich faith story and include additional commentary from legendary drivers such as Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, Darrell Waltrip and Phil Parsons.

A conversation with Minnesota Wild center Matt Cullen

posted by Chad Bonham
Matt Cullen, Minnesota Wild center (Photo by Andy King/NHLI via Getty Images)

Matt Cullen, Minnesota Wild center (Photo by Andy King/NHLI via Getty Images)

With the NHL Playoffs in full swing, Minnesota Wild center Matt Cullen is feeling right at home. In 16 seasons, Cullen has enjoyed several postseason runs including his 2006 sting with the Carolina Panthers that resulted in the city’s only Stanley Cup championship.

In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Cullen talks about the Stanley Cup, his faith journey, the importance of facing fear, and how Christianity is becoming more prevalent within NHL locker rooms across the league:

Chad Bonham: What do you appreciate most about your experience winning the 2006 Stanley Cup?

Matt Cullen: We played game seven at home in Carolina and won on home ice. I had my whole family there. That was the ultimate right there. That was as good as it could ever get. My wife was pregnant with our first boy and my dad was on the ice after the game. My dad was so influential in my career. It was a fulfillment of every athlete’s dream. I dreamed about it as a kid. We played hockey in the backyard. We had silver buckets we carried around like the Stanley Cup. It was everything that you would hope.

Bonham: Tell me about your faith journey.

Cullen: My mom was very spiritual. We were a Catholic family. We read the Bible at a young age. I have two brothers and a sister. We’re all very close. That was part of our childhood. But when I went to college and then got drafted and played in Anaheim, it was a life changer for me. I was exposed to so many things. I was out on my own for the first time. Some of the older guys on the team invited me to their chapel services and that really helped me get my feet on the ground and reestablish my faith. Since then, it’s been second nature. I go to chapel at the rink and we go to church as a family. My faith has been with me through my whole career and without it I don’t know where I’d be.

Bonham: When you contributed to the FCA Hockey New Testament, you talked about courage and fighting fear. What has the Bible taught you about those concepts?

Cullen: So often in the Bible we see the words “Do not fear” or “Do not be afraid.” When we give in to fear, it’s because we’re not trusting God. What are we afraid of? Everything is out of our hands anyway. It’s a matter of doing what you’re guided to do and trusting that it’s the right thing. Courageous people do that regardless of what others think or say. The people that follow through on God’s will are the people that trust Him.

Bonham: Are there any Bible stories that have personally inspired you along those lines?

Cullen: The first thing that jumps out in my mind is David versus Goliath. That’s one of the first stories we ever learn as kids. That’s one of the most inspirational stories about courage. David stood in the face of terrible odds and defeated the giant. I love reading that story to my boys. Being courageous is doing something isn’t easy or fun but you do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Of course, Jesus was the most courageous man who ever lived. He prayed and asked God to take the cup from Him before He went to the cross, but He still went because He knew that’s what He was supposed to do.

Bonham: Has fear ever caused you problems during your career and if so, how did your relationship with God help you get through that situation?

Cullen: The 2006 playoffs were such a rollercoaster for me. I was able to lean on God and know that no matter what things were going to work out the way they were meant to work out. I had that trust that allowed me to go into the games without fear. When I prayed before games, I was able to just let it go. When I played in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, I prayed more that day than I have my whole life. That was a day that I leaned on the Lord a lot. It helped me to face some of my fears. I was nervous going into that situation. It was everything I had worked for and dreamed about as a professional athlete. Having that courage and trust made a big difference and put me at ease knowing that somebody was with me. It was just a fun feeling going into the game and being able to trust that it was in good hands. I just played free without any fear or doubt. It was the most fun I’ve ever had playing which is funny because it was supposed to be the most pressure packed game I’ve ever played in.

Bonham: Where have you had to fight against fear in your personal life?

Cullen: When our third boy was born, I had been traded to Ottawa and we were playing in the playoffs at Pittsburgh. My wife Bridget went to the hospital during game two of the series and had our boy Joey. I couldn’t get home that night. He had problems with his lungs. That was a time when I leaned on my faith. I was praying about making sure Joey would make it through each day. Eventually he was fine, but I was very nervous and scared about the situation early on.

Bonham: What would you say to other athletes and coaches that might be dealing with fear?

Cullen: First and foremost, prayer is so helpful. But I think that you need to face your fears head on. Don’t avoid them or say that you’re not scared. Acknowledge it and be honest about it. It’s normal to get nervous about a big game or to get nervous about an important event in your life. Everyone is going to be afraid sometimes. Then you ask yourself, “What am I really afraid of?” Then you can address it, because there’s nothing to be afraid of. It helps a lot when you just face it and put it in perspective. It gives you that courage to fight through it. As an athlete, you can’t be afraid to make a mistake. Courageous people are not afraid to fail. So often in life and in sports, we’re afraid to fail. Instead, we should attack things with excitement and enthusiasm and think about the positives as opposed to the negatives.

Bonham: Are you seeing a shift in the NHL culture as it pertains to faith expression?

Cullen: Yes I am. But I think it’s a testament to what FCA is doing and Hockey Ministries. So many of the young kids are coming in and they’re established in their faith. It’s impressive. Cam Ward and Eric Staal, for example, were young guys coming into Carolina. Those guys are stars and it’s big to have those players that everyone in the locker room looks up to. It’s inspirational. These young kids come in with so much confidence in their faith and they’re not afraid or embarrassed or shy about it. All of the chapel services are getting younger and younger. So it has changed and it’s definitely growing.

Bonham: Are the misconceptions about Christian athletes starting to fade in the NHL?

Cullen: Christian guys had a reputation for being soft or not being tough enough to play the game. But every chapel we’ve had, our team fighter has been in there. Stu Grimson is very outspoken. Dan Bylsma, the head coach at Pittsburgh, was one guy that really helped me a lot. I can think of so many tough guys that by definition it’s their job to be tough and they’re all in chapel. That’s such a misconception and it’s kind of gone out the window. Guys feel more comfortable going to chapel. I remember when I first started, guys were nervous about it and it was kind of a secret. There was still that stigma that came with it, but it’s definitely been removed and (the faith movement) is definitely growing.

Matt Cullen is one of several current and former NHL players to be featured in a new FCA Hockey New Testament. Learn more about this resource by visiting the organization’s official website HERE.

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