|Rio's Christ the Redeemer...|
For the past week, aside from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the headlines have been dominated by Manuel, Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles, among others. They have become household names and share several things in common; they are young, they are world class athletes, who achieved Olympic gold, and they are devoted to their Christian faith.
In fact, it is interesting that, at a time when the American culture is becoming more and more secularized, and religion, especially Christianity, is being marginalized at schools, in the military, at sporting events and in most public domains, it seems that every other post-medal interview of an American athlete has some reference to God.
|Steele Johnson and David Boudia...|
In an interview after winning his medal, he said, "Now, I've kind of realized that God had his hand over all of it to help me... He gave me this ability to dive. God kept me alive and he is still giving me the ability to do what I do... but this is not what my identity will be for the rest of my life. Yeah, I'm Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time I'm here to love and serve Christ. My identity is rooted in Christ, not in the flips we're doing."
His diving partner three-time Olympian, David Boudia, who wrote a recently-published book on his faith, Greater Than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption, added, "We can't take credit for this. To God be the glory."
Expressions of faith are widespread throughout the Olympic Games in Rio from Jamaica's Usain Bolt (a faithful Catholic, who wears a Miraculous Medal of the Virgin Mary, when he's not wearing gold), making the sign of the cross before his races and praying on one knee after he wins, to Ibitijah Muhammad, becoming the first American to wear a hijab while competing.
Actually, it's only fitting that religious beliefs be on display freely in a city, whose skyline is dominated by a 125-foot sculpture of Christ the Redeemer.
While, there's no doubt there are many atheists and agnostics among the competitors, it appears a healthy share are believers (and proud of it). And, it shouldn't be a surprise, considering the close relationship between body and soul, since humanity is comprised of body, mind and spirit.
Apparently, stardom left him empty inside; the pressure of having to perform and live up to his image, the spotlight and constant scrutiny, the pain of an unresolved relationship with his father, who divorced his mother when Phelps was nine.
He tried to fill the void with drugs and alcohol.
His decline began with a suspension from swimming when a photo of him smoking a marijuana bong surfaced. He was later arrested twice for DUI. His life hit rock bottom. It was then that his family and former Baltimore Raven and University of Miami great Ray Lewis talked him into going to rehab, where he read a book that changed his life.
It was Rick Warren's A Purpose Driven Life, which was given to him by Lewis before he checked into rehab. After reading the book, he started sharing his faith openly with others, reconciled with his estranged father and asked his long-time girlfriend to marry him. He has been trying to live his faith devoutly ever since.
"My Catholic faith is very important to me," Ledecky said in a recent magazine interview, "It always has been and it always will be. It is part of who I am and I feel comfortable practicing my faith."
Ledecky says prayer is a big part of her preparation for competitions, "I do say a prayer, or two, before any race. The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer and I find it calms me."
Biles is known for her fun-loving and energetic attitude, gravity-defying jumps and discipline and precision. Yet, the only constant in her young life has been her faith.
Her mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol and lost custody of her kids when Simone was three. The gymnast has been living with her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles, who adopted her and her younger sister and they call "mom and dad," ever since.
The 19-year-old attends Mass with her family every Sunday at St. James the Apostle, where she was Confirmed, and says part of her routine includes lighting a candle and praying to St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, before every meet. She also says prayer is a big part of her life and she carries a rosary, that her mom Nellie got her at church, at all times.
In the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, the saint writes, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable." (1 Cor 9:24-25)
It appears all these athletes are training and competing for the prize that will have eternal reward...
[photo credit: Getty images]