Inspiring Athletes

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In our continuing series, we look at more of the Top 30 Christian Sports Stories of 2011:

#20 Kevin Durant claims second consecutive NBA scoring title

If there was any question that Kevin Durant has earned the title bonafide NBA star, the Oklahoma City Thunder forward erased any doubt with his second consecutive scoring title. Durant averaged 27.7 points per game and held off perennial scoring beasts like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard in the process.

But even with the accolades and achievements, Durant is determined to keep his head on straight and always remember the source of his athletic abilities:

“I always kind of pinch myself and say that any day this can be gone,” Durant said. “In the Bible, (it says) the Lord exalts humility…I (remind myself that I) can always be better. I always work on what I have now. I’ve just got to be thankful to the Lord for the gifts He’s given me. My gift back to Him is to always be humble and to always try to work as hard as I can.”

Read more of this interview with Durant by clicking the link below:

A conversation with Kevin Durant

#19 Gene Chizik leads Auburn to national championship

Most of the drama surrounding Auburn’s football program took place during the 2010 season, but it all culminated this past January with a 22-19 victory against Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game.

For head coach Gene Chizik, it was an amazing ending to a crazy season that saw his program come under fire from both media members looking to cast doubt on quarterback Cam Newton’s eligibility status and a brutal Southeastern Conference schedule. Ultimately, it was Chizik’s strong Christian faith and his dedicated family that helped him triumph over those challenges.

“When I start thanking God, I’m thanking Him for the platform He’s given me to lead,” Chizik said. “(I’m thanking Him for) the platform He’s given me to be in situations where I have been able to overcome insurmountable odds and where I’ve been able to express to a team the importance of faith and believing in each other.”

Click on these links to read more about Chizik from the Inspiring Athletes archives:

A conversation with Gene Chizik (part 1)

A conversation with Gene Chizik (part 2)

#18 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wins NASCAR Nationwide Series championship

Based on Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s 2010 season, there was really no way to know whether the driver of the #6 Roush Fenway Ford was going to be a contender in 2011. But those doubts were erased after a second-place finish at the season finale Ford 300 in Homestead, Fla., earned the rising star his first career Nationwide Series championship.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if God hadn’t allowed us to do it,” Stenhouse Jr., said. “He’s the one that’s ultimately in control of everything.”

Click on the links below to read more about Stenhouse Jr., from the Inspiring Athletes archives:

A conversation with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wins Nationwide Series title

#17 Clayton Kershaw wins NL Cy Young Award

When Clayton Kershaw isn’t busy traveling to Zambia with his wife on mission trips, the 23-year old pitching phenomenon makes good use of his time by striking out Major League hitters and racking up wins for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Skipping high school and going straight into the MLB draft, Kershaw made his anticipated debut early in the 2008 season and this year put together the kind of performance that scouts had been projecting since his prep days in Texas. And what a season it was.

Kershaw won the National League’s pitching Triple Crown with 21 wins, 248 strikeouts and a 2.28 ERA. He made his first All-Star appearance as well and earned the coveted Cy Young Award, which is given to each League’s most outstanding pitcher.

In an interview with FCA’s Sharing the Victory magazine, Kershaw made sure to give credit where credit is due:

“It’s for (God’s) glory,” he said. “He doesn’t want us to hide our talents. He wants us to put them in the spotlight and glorify Him. That’s a pretty cool thing.”

#16 Jenny Simpson turns in surprising gold medal performance at World Championships

For the past four years, Jenny Simpson has steadily been climbing the ranks amongst the world’s best middle distance runners and steeplechasers. But no one expected the native Iowan and Colorado University graduate to pull off such a stunning upset at the 2011 Track & Field World Championships in Daegu, South Korea this past September.

Simpson became the first American-born woman to win gold in the 1,500-meter race at the World Championships or the Olympics since Mary Slaney accomplished that feat at the World Championships in 1983. She hopes to turn the momentum into another Olympic appearance next year in London. But in an article she wrote for FCA’s Sharing the Victory magazine, Simpson said there’s a higher purpose for everything she does:

“I would love to have the chance to compete in the Olympics again,” she said. “But having a sense of who I am in Christ keeps me from allowing those goals to restrict what He has in store for me in the future. God has blessed me with an incredible gift, but I understand that running is not the only thing He’s given me.”

#15 Josh Hamilton rebounds from injury, tragedy to lead Rangers to AL title

Josh Hamilton had quite a year in 2011. And it had nothing to do with the Texas Rangers outfielder’s amazing testimony of overcoming alcohol and drug addiction some six years earlier or an MVP season like the one he experienced in 2010.

This time, Hamilton’s rollercoaster ride included a freakish shoulder injury that happened just days into the season when he slid headfirst into home plate.

About six weeks after his return, Hamilton was dealt another tragic blow. After tossing a foul ball into the stands, a fan named Shannon Stone fell 20-feet leaning over the fence to retrieve and died on the way to the hospital. Stone’s eight-year old son, along with Hamilton and dozens of nearby fans helplessly watched the firefighter fall to his death.

Hamilton’s season took a turn for the better when he was selected to his fourth All-Star game en route to an American League Championship season with the Rangers. He also welcomed young Cooper Stone (son of Shannon Stone) to a playoff game where the boy threw Hamilton the ceremonial opening pitch.

The Rangers fell short in the World Series for the second consecutive year, this time in an exhilarating seven-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals. But despite the disappointing ending, Hamilton will be hard pressed to forget the 2011 season and it’s unbelievable circumstances.

#14 Webb Simpson narrowly misses FedEx Cup, money and Player of the Year titles; leads Team USA to Presidents Cup victory

Coming into the 2011 season, fourth-year PGA professional Webb Simpson was not much more than an afterthought in the minds of most golf media members and fans alike. That all changed this year when the Raleigh, NC, native made an improbable run that included two victories and three second-place finishes. Simpson also finished second in the FedEx Cup and second on the money list with over $6 million in earnings (almost $4 million more than his previous three years combined).

But perhaps Simpson’s biggest impact came when a self-reported penalty (the wind moved his ball after he had addressed it for a putt) at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans cost him the lead and forced a playoff that was eventually won by Bubba Watson.

“I’ve seen how God has used it to affect other people,” Simpson said. “It was a small thing that I did that wasn’t even a noble thing. It was just part of the game…But the Lord definitely used it. I heard from a lot of people who were watching with their kids and they were able to teach their kids a cool lesson in that moment.”

At the conclusion of the 2011 season, Simpson played a key role in leading Team USA to a victory against the International squad (led by fellow Christian golfers Aaron Baddeley and K.J. Choi) in the Presidents Cup.

Click on the link below to read more of the Inspiring Athletes interview with Simpson:

A conversation with Webb Simpson

#13 Derek Fisher leads NBA Players in historic labor dispute

There’s really only one reason to mention the (pardon the overused word) epic labor dispute between the NBA owners and the NBA players. And that reason is certainly not to bore anyone with the details—details that no one cares to try to understand.

But what made the five-month lockout interesting to Inspiring Athletes was the fact that noted Christian athlete Derek Fisher, star point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, represented his peers throughout the negotiations as the NBA Players Association’s president, a role that he has filled since 2006. When the lockout finally ended on December 8, a 66-game schedule was announced with the first games taking place on Christmas Day.

Fisher, a five-time NBA champion, has quietly lived out his faith, but two years ago gave an insightful interview to “The 700 Club.”

“God blessed me with an ability to play this game very well,” he said. “So then, in response to that, to show Him that I appreciate that blessing, I’m supposed to try to be the best at playing the game of basketball. I know all of it is because of Him. There’s no question about it. The source of my power and strength is God, and I know it, without a shadow of a doubt.”

#12 Mariano Rivera sets MLB saves record

He’s often been called the greatest closer in baseball history, but now New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera can officially lay claim to that title. On September 20, Rivera helped the Yankees secure a 6-4 victory against the Minnesota Twins and earned his 602nd save in the process (passing previous leader Trevor Hoffman). He finished the year with 603 saves.

Rivera’s saves title is just another in a long list of notable achievements. In his 16 years as a professional, he has played on five World Series championship teams, been named to 12 All-Star teams and saved more postseason games (42) than any pitcher in Major League history.

#11 Maya Moore leads Minnesota to WNBA title, wins Rookie of the Year honors

Other than perhaps Candace Parker, it’s hard to imagine any WNBA rookie having more pressure than what Maya Moore faced entering the 2011 season. Coming out of a stellar All-American career at Connecticut, fans were hopeful that Moore would be the next athlete to infuse energy and life into the 15-year old basketball league.

It took Moore a little time to adjust to the tougher competition, but she eventually turned into the scoring threat while averaging 13.2 points per game and leading the Minnesota Lynx to its first ever WNBA championship. For her efforts, Moore was named Rookie of the Year.

In an interview with Sports Spectrum, Moore credits her faith and her strong mother for helping her make it through uncertain times as a young, aspiring athlete:

“Growing up without really having a relationship (with my father), I was just all over the place, not really having a consistency in my life,” Moore said. “But God gave me something to work toward, something to aspire to be, some guidance. I feel like I found purpose. When you find your purpose and you find what you’re supposed to do, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Check back tomorrow for the final part of this Top 30 series with the Top 10 Christian Sports Stories of 2011!

And find out what stories made the list from #21-30 by clicking HERE!

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