Inspiring Athletes

And now we continue with the final installment of the Inspiring Athletes Top Christian Sports Stories of 2012. Today we focus on the Top 10 (in reverse order):

#10 Calvin Johnson breaks NFL single-season receiving record

They call Calvin Johnson “Megatron” because of his ability to consistently produce highlight material worthy of the big screen. But in the season’s next-to-last game, Johnson added a little substance to that style by breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record.

On December 22, Johnson finished the game against Atlanta with 1,892 receiving yards for the season. In that same game, he set the NFL records for consecutive 100-yard games (8) and consecutive games with 10 or more receptions (4). Johnson also tied Michael Irvin’s record for most 100-yard games in a season (11).

But records have never been the focus for this athlete whose church upbringing has molded him into a steady man of faith.

“As NFL players, we have such a platform to spread the Word of God,” Johnson once told FCA Magazine. “And that is an area I don’t mind speaking out on at all. As far as talking about my football skills, however, I will let my abilities and actions speak for themselves.”

#9 Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson leads Seahawks to improbable NFL Playoffs run

Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts) and Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins) were expected to have a major impact on their teams in 2012, but no one could have predicted that fellow rookie quarterback Russell Wilson would also provide a game changing boost to the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson was the starting quarterback from day one and led the team to an 11-5 record and a spot in the NFC Playoffs.

Wilson finished the season ranked fourth in passer rating (100.0) which beat the previous rookie record set by Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 (98.1). In the playoffs, Wilson led Seattle to an impressive 24-14 road victory against Washington and then orchestrated a huge comeback against Atlanta that ultimately fell short, 30-28.

Throughout the season, Wilson was vocal about his faith in interviews and through Twitter posts. “It’s pretty unbelievable how the Lord works,” he said.

#8 Jack Taylor sets NCAA single-game scoring record with 138 points

On November 20, the name Jack Taylor instantly became a household name within the basketball community. Playing for Division III team Grinnell College, Taylor obliterated the NCAA single-game scoring record with 138 points in his team’s 179-104 victory against Faith Baptist Bible. The previous record was 113 points (Bevo Francis of Rio Grande in 1954).

Taylor was 52 for 108 from the field including 27 for 71 from the three-point line. In a prophetic twist, he and a few teammates had studied Matthew 25 in a pregame devotional. In that passage, Jesus shares the parable of the talents and making the most of what has been given to you. Taylor has transferred that principle from the basketball court to his opportunities to talk about his faith.

“The Lord has given me the strength and wisdom to stay humble,” Taylor said. “If I had scored 138 points before God saved me, it would have been a disaster. I would have turned myself into a ‘god’ that people could idolize. Instead, God has made me a new creation who cares more about making Jesus’ name famous rather than my own.”

Read more about Taylor’s story by clicking the link below:

Jack Taylor sets NCAA scoring record

#7 Missy Franklin brings home multiple Olympic swimming medals

Missy Franklin led the U.S. women’s swimming team to a dominating performance at the London Olympics. Franklin’s five medals (tied with teammate Allison Schmitt) and four golds made her the most decorated female athlete at the Games.

The 17-year old phenom from Aurora, Colo., set a new world record in the 200-meter backstroke with a time of 2:04.06 and a new American record in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 58:33. She was also part of the 4×100-meter medley relay that set a world record (3:52:05).

Just prior to the U.S. Olympic Trials, Franklin talked to Inspiring Athletes about the importance of faith in her life:

“Every day over the last three years, my faith has grown,” she said. “One of my favorite times is going to our beautiful school chapel and spending time with God. This year, I attended Kairos with my Regis Jesuit sisters and it changed my life forever. I now really work on keeping my faith strong.”

Read more from that interview with Missy Franklin by clicking the link below:

A conversation with Missy Franklin

#6 Bubba Watson wins the Masters

Bubba Watson has been on the cusp of golf greatness for the past two or three years. On April 8, He took a huge leap towards solidifying his place amongst the game’s best by securing his first major championship at the 2012 Masters Tournament.

Watson erased a three-shot deficit in the final round forced a sudden death playoff with Louis Oosthuizen. The pair both made par on the first hole (played on the 18th), but Watson secured the famed green jacket with a par putt on the second hole (played on the 10th) after Oosthuizen finished with a bogey.

It was an especially emotional time for Watson and his wife Angie who had adopted their first child, a son named Caleb, just two weeks earlier.

“I feel like I am so blessed,” Watson told Fox News. “We know that the green jacket is a big honor, but at the same time, we can’t take this to Heaven with us.”

#5 Kevin Durant wins third consecutive scoring title, leads OKC to NBA Finals

For the last few seasons, names like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have dominated the conversation about the NBA’s greatest players. But after being named MVP at the All-Star Game, winning his third consecutive scoring title and leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals, Kevin Durant has firmly planted himself right in the middle of any such discussion.

Durant averaged 28 points per game during the lockout-shortened season and was named to the All-NBA First Team. He also scored a career-high 51 points on February 19 against the Denver Nuggets. Despite his success, Durant remains committed to growing in his relationship with God.

“I’ve got a long way to go to become closer to the Lord but hopefully I can continue to stay on the path,” he told Inspiring Athletes. “I might take a few steps forward and take a couple steps back and take some steps forward, but I want to get better.”

Read more from Kevin Durant by clicking the link below:

A conversation with Kevin Durant

#4 Gabby Douglas collects Olympic gold in gymnastics team, all-around competitions

Headlined by Jordyn Wieber, Team USA was expected to win team gold and the highly touted “Fab Five” didn’t disappoint. But what did surprise many was Wieber’s failure to make it into the all-around competition. Instead, Gabby Douglas made history by becoming the first black athlete to win gymnastics all-around gold.

Douglas arguably made the biggest impact of the five young athletes and was sure to let share her faith publicly in the following moments.

“I give all the glory to God,” she told NBC after her all-around gold medal performance. “It’s kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to Him and the blessings fall down on me.”

Read more about the 2012 Summer Olympics by clicking on the link below:

The Inspiring Athletes Summer Olympics in review

#3 Tim Tebow leads Denver to incredible playoff victory, languishes after trade to New York

After an incredible string of comeback victories during the 2011 season, Tim Tebow led the Denver Broncos to a first-round playoff victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in spectacular fashion. On January 8 in Denver, Tebow threw for a career high 316 yards including an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demariyius Thomas on the first play of overtime for the 29-23 victory.

Tebow couldn’t muster the same magic against eventual the New England Patriots (and eventual AFC champions) but was named the starting quarterback for 2012 training camp. That all changed on March 21 when the Broncos signed free agent Peyton Manning and traded Tebow to the New York Jets for a pair of draft picks.

The 2012 season turned out to be more tumultuous for Tebow than anything he had experienced in his career. The Jets rarely used him—mostly on short yardage packages and on special teams—and the quarterback situation in New York became a running joke within the media and the NFL fan base.

Despite the disappointing circumstance, Tebow remained true to his Christian values and took many opportunities to serve others through his foundation and was always willing to share his faith publicly.

“The message I always try to get across in speaking to various groups is that I am no different than anyone else in the room, despite what people may think because I am a football player,” Tebow once told me. “When I’ve gone to the Philippines with my dad and hung out with the kids at the orphanage, that’s kept me from letting my whole life get wrapped up in what’s going to happen on fourth down instead of thinking what a blessing it is to have the athletic ability to go out there and play football. That takes a lot of pressure off. It lets me go out there and enjoy playing and have fun.”

#2 Jeremy Lin breaks out in New York, takes Linsanity to Houston

You know you’re a big deal when a catch phrase bearing your name becomes a part of pop culture vernacular. Like “Tebowing” from a year earlier, the same phenomenon took place in New York when a virtually unknown guard named Jeremy Lin burst onto the scene with the Knicks. In just a matter of days, “Linsanity” was born.

Lin had been working towards his NBA dream for nearly three years. His pro career (at least in the United States) was precariously heading towards the edge of oblivion. But then a happenstance opportunity allowed Lin to get some playing time on February 3 against the Celtics. Lin impressed head coach Mike D’Antoni and earned a start the next night against the Nets. In that game, he 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists. That led to a record-breaking string of seven games with at least 20 points and seven assists. No other player had ever accomplished that feat in his first five starts. New York went 6-0 in his first six starts.

At the end of the season, the Knicks surprisingly didn’t match an offer by the Houston Rockets. Lin left for Houston and a four-year $28.8 million dollar contract. It’s been a whirlwind 12 months for Lin who is doing his best to remain even-keeled and consistent in his faith.

“I’ve always been a low-key person,” Lin told FCA Magazine. “I don’t need to be talked about all the time. Whatever happens, I’m OK with it. I understand this is a platform God has given me. I’m a steward, not an owner. I can’t control how big the platform becomes. I just have to make sure I conduct myself in a way that pleases Him.”

Read more from FCA Magazine’s interview with Jeremy Lin by clicking the link below:

An interview with Jeremy Lin

#1 Robert Griffin III unites DC with rookie season heroics

Andrew Luck may have been the top selection of the 2012 NFL Draft, but it’s the number-two guy, Robert Griffin III, that has seemingly captured most of the season’s major headlines.

Griffin started his NFL career with an NFC Offensive Player of the Week performance. He threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-32 win against New Orleans and never looked back. In Washington’s 31-6 victory against Philadelphia, Griffin became the first NFL rookie to pass for 200 yards, four touchdowns and rush for 75 yards in a single game. He also became the youngest player to achieve a perfect passer rating in a game.

Griffin’s success ignited excitement in the nation’s capital. He was hailed by Senator Marco Rubio as the “the best leader in DC.” Washington Post religion editor Sally Quinn lauded Griffin for his inspirational attributes. But ESPN commentator Rob Parker drew ire after referring to him as a “cornball brother.”

In the midst of the high praises and unexpected criticism, Griffin has relied on his parents’ faithful church upbringing and his personal relationship with Christ to help him manage it all.

“[God] gives you the stage to make a difference and not to just talk about yourself, but lift Him up,” Griffin once said. “I praise God, I thank him for everything. Purposefully, you live every day for Him, and when He gives you the opportunity to speak up for Him or to do something in His name, you do it.”

Check out the other Top Christian Sports Stories of 2012 by clicking the links below:

Top Christian Sports Stories (#11-20)

Top Christian Sports Stories (#21-30)