Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

Sam Hornish Jr. wins Nationwide race in Las Vegas, maintains points lead

posted by Chad Bonham

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

Sam Hornish Jr., didn’t realize until the morning of the race that the Nationwide Series race in Las Vegas was called the Sam’s Town 300. Although Hornish isn’t a gambling man, it turns out that betting on him to win a race with a sponsor that bears his name would have been a lucrative choice. His Penske Racing Ford Mustang led 114 of the 200 laps and pulled away from Kyle Busch for his second NASCAR victory.

Hornish Jr., entered the third race of the season in a tie with Justin Allgaier for the points lead and finished with a 19-point lead over Allgaier, Elliot Sadler and Brian Scott.

Inspiring Athletes spoke to Hornish Jr., earlier in the week and we’ll be sharing that full interview later during the season.

In the meantime, click the link below to read a previous interview with the former Indy Car champion in which he talked about his family’s racing obsession, the importance of maintaining his Christian witness and why he won’t be gracing a church pulpit anytime soon.

“This is kind of my own way to minister to people,” Hornish Jr., said. “It’s not necessarily about being the guy that’s up there sharing from a pulpit. But I’ve been able to profess my faith and maybe reach more people than if I had been a pastor.”

A conversation with Sam Hornish Jr.

A conversation with Carolina Hurricanes goalie Dan Ellis

posted by Chad Bonham

Dan Ellis of the Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes goalie Dan Ellis knows a little some about faith. He’s had to rely strongly on his faith in God during an up and down NHL career that has included playing for five different teams, enduring two lockouts and sustaining an unfortunately timed injury. In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Ellis talks about his definition of faith, how it’s sustained him through his professional and personal struggles, and his encouragements to other players and coaches:

Chad Bonham: How would you define “Faith?”

Dan Ellis: Faith to me is having absolute certainty that God is in control of my life and that He has my best interests at heart. There may be times in my life where a situation looks bleak or doesn’t make sense, but having faith in God allows me to know that He will take me through that situation and make me better off than I was before. Having faith in God means trusting in Him even when everything inside of you wants to take control. Loosening control of your life into Gods hands brings an overwhelming sense of peace and confidence.

Bonham: How have you learned this biblical principle?

Ellis: Life experiences have taught me the most about faith. Many times in my life when things were not going as I had planned, I would try to take control and fix it. The harder I tried to fix things the harder the situation or the stress from the situation became. As I learned to trust that God had the best solution, my life became much more peaceful and I was able to get through problems much quicker. God never puts something in our path where He has not already equipped us to handle.

Bonham: What Bible verse has helped you have more faith?

Ellis: In 2 Corinthians 5:7, Paul talks about how we walk by faith, not by sight. Faith comes before you see any results. It’s when we take the leap of faith that God places the next step under our feet, often propelling us to heights which we could never have imagined.

Bonham: What have you learned about faith through the life of Jesus Christ?

Ellis: You see His faith on the cross, where Jesus took all of our shame and sin simply because His Father said so. Jesus put his life on the line because He trusted that His Father had a greater plan.

Bonham: How has that principle applied to your life as a professional athlete?

Ellis: I was in a contract year last season. You want to have your best season so that you can get a new contract and stay in the league. At the beginning of the season my playing time dipped more than any point in my career and right as opportunity was knocking at the door I sustained grade-three groin tear. Knowing that my opportunity to earn a contract has faded, my trust and faith were completely in His hands. Even when things like that happen, I know without a shadow of a doubt that God has a better plan. That He will take care of me and I will be better off than I ever could have imagined.

Bonham: How does faith impact other areas of your life?

Ellis: Being a family man with two small children, I take that same faith into family matters. Whether it is dealing with a sick child, dealing with our finances or dealing with my marriage, God works through all things for the good of those who are called in Christ. No task is too big or too small for God. He cares for us. He wants the best for us. More importantly He just wants us to include Him in our lives by trusting in Him. He has a great plan for each of our lives. We just have to have the faith to see it through.

Bonham: What is your encouragement to other athletes and coaches?

Ellis: Things don’t always happen the way we planned. As we learn to trust in God’s plan, we will see that He has our best interests at heart. His wisdom is much greater than man’s wisdom. Things that don’t make sense don’t need to because God the Father has a plan for us. As we put our faith in Him will see that plan through and be better off than we ever could have imagined.

Dan Ellis 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.

A conversation with Phoenix Suns center Luke Zeller

posted by Chad Bonham

Phoenix Suns center Luke Zeller

When the 2013-14 NBA season rolls around, there’s a very good chance that the Zeller brothers will make league history. That’s because youngest brother Cody, although just a sophomore at Indiana, is considered to be good enough to be selected in the 2013 NBA Draft.

So whether next season or the season after, he will likely join his older siblings Tyler and Luke in the pro ranks. That would make them just the third trio of brothers to play in the NBA at the same time, along with the Jones brothers (Major, Charles and Caldwell) from the 70s and 80s, and the more recent Barry brothers (Jon, Brent and Drew) who played simultaneously from 1998 to 2000.

Inspiring Athletes recently had a chance to catch up with the Luke Zeller, the oldest brother, before one of his games with the Phoenix Suns. In that conversation, he talked about his unique relationship with his brothers, why it’s important to share his faith publicly and how he tries to follow God’s lead:

Chad Bonham: Tell me about you and your brothers’ upbringing.

Luke Zeller: We grew up playing and now we’re just playing at a higher level. We grew up the right way and our parents taught us to do the right thing off and on the court. Faith has been a huge foundation for all of that. Mom and dad started us off right.

Bonham: How much are you able to keep up with your brothers’ careers?

Zeller: We talk about every day whether it’s a text or a phone call. They were my best men at my wedding and they’re two of my best friends. It makes a big difference when they’re not just your brothers.

Bonham: How important is it for you to use this platform to share your faith and your personal experiences?

Zeller: When God’s first in your life and your family’s second, the perspective is that the platform as player is for the purpose of lifting up His name and glorifying Him in all you do. No matter what the platform is, that’s the goal and that’s the prayer before tonight’s game and before every game.

Bonham: How do you harness your expectations and make sure you don’t get ahead of God’s plan for your life?

Zeller: I’m not great at that. I’m not trying to say I’ve got it all figured out. But I’m trying to figure out what God’s plan is for me and where my plans fit. One of my old high school friends used to tell me, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your dreams.” God’s dreams might be bigger and better and something completely unexpected. So I just try to follow what He’s go day in and day out. I’m here to live for Him no matter what that looks like or where I might be.

Bonham: How important as FCA been to you throughout your athletic career?

Zeller: FCA has been huge for me. My family also started our own organization called “Distinxion” and we do camps and share our faith through that. We work closely with FCA and a lot of the small groups around Indiana and across the country.

Bonham: Is it encouraging when you see more NBA players starting to take their faith into the public square?

Zeller: Definitely. There’s a community of believers in the league and there’s definitely a growing sense of that. Everybody has a personal decision to make but hopefully my actions speak louder than words. Hopefully that’s my testimony day in and day out.

To learn more about the Zeller’s ministry organization Distinxion, check out the official website HERE.

The Inspiring Athletes Super Bowl XLVII Preview

posted by Chad Bonham

With the Super Bowl XLVII later this week in New Orleans, it’s always interesting to check out some of the more interesting story lines that emerge from both teams.

But in this year’s championship game, history will be made when, for the first time, two head coach brothers will face each other. Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh will pace opposing sidelines in an event that some are dubbing—well, let’s not get into that lest we encounter some NFL trademark issues.

Anyway, there are other interesting stories to follow, of course, like the fact that this will be Ray Lewis’ last game before ending his career as arguably one of the game’s greatest defensive players

And as always, there are plenty of faith stories to be told. Since that’s the focus here at Inspiring Athletes, we thought it would appropriate to highlight a few of the Christian athletes and coaches that will be participating in this year’s Super Bowl:



When Billy Bajema (tight end) hits the field in New Orleans, he’ll be doing so against his former team. Bajema was one of the last picks in the 2005 NFL Draft—seventh round, 249th pick, to be exact. He turned that opportunity into a three-year career in San Francisco that led to two seasons in St. Louis before signing with Baltimore in 2012.

Bajema has been a quiet, but steadying force at every stop along the way. Much of his leadership ability has been honed by his involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Oklahoma City Trinity Church of the Nazarene. An avid studier of scripture, Bajema says one of his favorite Bible verses is Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (HCSB)

“It’s great instruction from Paul on how to live with the peace of God,” Bajema explains. “It’s so easy to get caught up in everything that’s going on around us and lose sight of our true purpose on earth, which is to serve God. He has blessed me with the opportunity to play football. It’s my responsibility to give everything I’ve got and use my ability to the fullest while praying for his direction. Anything beyond that is useless to think about and is out of my control. I know that if I’ve truly given my best, then I can have peace no matter what happens in a game, during the season or throughout my career.”

Ray Lewis (linebacker) is a complicated man. He was indicted along with two other men for murder in 2001 following a post-Super Bowl incident in Atlanta (his charges were later dropped) and has fathered six children with four women while remaining unmarried. Lewis has also openly admitted his mistakes and over the past 10 years rehabilitated his image. The legendary linebacker is now largely considered a model citizen within the NFL’s occasionally sketchy ranks.

But what makes the future Hall of Famer most interesting is his vocal commitment to the Christian faith. Lewis has been eager to share scriptures in post-game interviews and talk about the difference God has made in his life. Most notably, his conversion was reported in an extensive 2006 Sports Illustrated cover story.

In a recent New York Times article, Lewis told William C. Rhoden how his past mistakes provide a unique mentoring opportunity for his younger teammates.

“I tell them, trust me, don’t ever take my path,” Lewis said. “Don’t ever do it the way I did it, because everyone won’t make it. You got to be willing to walk in a storm. That’s what I tell people all the time. If there’s something in your life that you know needs changing, make sure you change it before God’s got to change it. Because if God’s got to change it, you ain’t going to like it.”

Offensive linemen aren’t usually household names. But then, most offensive linemen don’t have their story told in a blockbuster film. Such is the case with Michael Oher (tackle) who was the inspiration for the 2009 movie The Blind Side that starred Sandra Bullock who won an Oscar for her portrayal as Oher’s adoptive mother Leigh Ann Tuohy.

While the film made several enhancements to the true story, one thing was very much real—the influence that Oher’s Christian faith had on his incredible journey to Ole Miss and eventually the NFL. In an interview with CBN, he reiterated that important fact.

“(I was) always praying, praying a lot and, having faith in God and knowing that without Him, none of this would be possible,” Oher said. “A lot of other people get credit for this and that, but without Him it wouldn’t be possible.”

John Harbaugh (head coach) might be the older and less volatile of the Harbaugh brothers, but his passion for the game should never be questioned. Raised in a devout Catholic home, Harbaugh has relied on his faith through his NFL coaching career.

He admits, however, that his relationship with God hasn’t always been a two-way endeavor.

“I used to pray for other reasons, and every now and then, I’d pray for a turnover,” Harbaugh once told the Catholic Review.  “But more than anything else, I want God to stay close to me so I don’t get caught up in myself and basically embarrass myself. That’s selfish behavior.”


David Akers (kicker) almost gave up on his dream of playing in the NFL. Three teams signed and released him in three consecutive years before the Eagles gave Akers a shot to play for Berlin in the now-defunct NFL Europe. He wasn’t crazy about the idea, but with his wife’s encouragement, Akers made the trek overseas. It turned out to be a great decision and led to a 12-year stint in Philadelphia.

Akers has spent the last two years in San Francisco and his recent trials have included his daughter Halley’s life-threatening illness and late-season kicking struggles. Both issues were a reminder to always keep things in perspective.

“I don’t want my legacy to be that I was great at making long field goals or filling up the stat sheet,” Akers wrote in a piece for FCA Magazine. “I’d rather be known as a great husband and father, a good friend and teammate, a servant and someone who could be counted upon. I love my Heavenly Father and, like Romans 8:28 says, I have a purpose in this life—to give glory to God in all things.”

For the better part of his first season and a half, Colin Kaepernick (quarterback) was a little known commodity in San Francisco. He had shown flashes of greatness running the wildcat, but it wasn’t until Jim Harbaugh gave him his first start on November 19th that people started to see what the second-year player could do.

Since then, Kaepernick has methodically led the 49ers to its first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years thanks to his accurate arm and dangerous legs. One of his brightest moments came in the divisional game against Green Bay where he set the NFL quarterback rushing record with 181 yards.

Kaepernick has become almost as well known for his heavily tattooed body, which includes a number of inspirational sayings and biblical references. And while some have criticized his appearance as unbecoming to an NFL quarterback, a second look reveals a highly spiritual young man who has not shied away from publicly sharing his faith.

Last January, Kaepernick talked to a group at Summit Christian Church in Sparks, Nevada, and explained the inspiration for many of his tattoos.

“I’ve been very blessed to have the talent to play the game that I do and be successful at it,” Kaepernick said to a group at Summit Christian Church in Sparks, Nev., last January. “I think God guides me through every day and helps me take the right steps and has helped me to get to where I’m at. I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field.”

Patrick Willis (linebacker) knows a little something about hard times. He grew up in the impoverished town of Bruceton, Tenn., where he lived in a doublewide trailer with an abusive, alcoholic father. Willis was working in the cotton fields by the age of 10 and left home at 17 with his two younger siblings for whom he claimed responsibility.

After a successful career at Ole Miss, Willis awaited his professional fate in the 2007 NFL Draft. He had come through so much already, he knew where to turn for comfort and assurance. In an interview with CBN, Willis recalled his conversation with God the day before the 49ers selected him in the first round.

“Lord, you know I don’t know where I’m going to go,” the six-time All-Pro linebacker prayed. “I’ve done everything I could possibly do to put myself in the best situation. Wherever you bless me to go, that’s where I’m going to play the best football I can possibly play. Whatever happens on this day, its your will.”

Jim Harbaugh (head coach) has been both lauded and ridiculed for his fiery sideline (and occasional post-game) antics. Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz certainly has an interesting opinion of Harbaugh’s game day etiquette.

But what most people don’t know is that Harbaugh is also passionate about his faith. Like his older brother, Harbaugh was raised Catholic and remains devout in his prayer time and church attendance. But that devotion has also led him on a path of service that includes an annual mission trip to Peru.

“The doors that God will open for you by the people you meet or by the circumstances you’re in (allow) your character to be shaped and your spirit to grow,” Harbaugh told the Catholic News Agency. “Those kinds of doors are opened for (me) here.”

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