Catholic Olympians Bring Us All Gold
As we bask in the afterglow of the Vancouver Games some Catholic athletes from recent Olympiads offer reflections.
SPRING LAKES, MI (Catholic Online) - As we bask in the afterglow of the Vancouver Games, some Catholic athletes from recent Olympiads offer reflections for all of us to take away from the experience.
Cross country skier Rebecca Dussault´s Catholic faith almost kept her from Olympic competition. As a young athlete Dussault´s faith and morals were constantly challenged. Traveling extensively with other skiers who had little or no faith, Rebecca was tested severely.
At age 19, despite being one of America´s top skiers, she left the sport in what she called a "soul rescue effort," to seek more fully God´s will for her. Dussault always kept before her Mark 8:36: "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul in the process?"
Three years later she returned to competition with a renewed purpose—a vocation as wife and mother. Strengthened by the presence of her family and the grace of the sacrament of marriage, Dussault qualified for Team U.S.A. at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin—and barely missed qualifying in 2010.
She serves on the speakers bureau for 'Catholic Athletes for Christ', using her stature as an Olympian to spread the Gospel. Derek Parra also knows the ups and downs of being an Olympian and faithful Catholic. He left a broken home in California at age 17 to train as a speed skater in Wisconsin.
In the depth of loneliness, he was given a Bible by a pastor, and it made all the difference. "From that point on in my life and in my career as a skater, God played an important role," he said in Beth Dotson Brown´s booklet ´Yes! I Am Catholic´. "When I had hard times, I didn´t look at them as hard times but as times when God was teaching me something. I was learning something from the experience that would help me in another part of my life."
At the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Parra won the gold medal in the 1500 meters and silver in the 3000 meters. "With God´s grace, I was successful and won the gold medal and went out and preached to others about my faith and talked about it freely. Maybe that´s why. Maybe I was chosen to win because of what I would do and how I would share my faith."
While not as demonstrative about her Catholic faith, Alexa Loo knows it is the anchor of her life. A Canadian snow boarder, Alexa finished 12th out of 29 competitors in the parallel giant slalom event at Vancouver. "I´m not like the Italian kid who blesses himself and kisses his necklace before taking off," she told the British Columbia Catholic. "For me my faith is who I am. I can´t say I sit on the bus and say the Rosary, but the night before a big race I´ll pray, ´Please God, help me ride my best.´"
On May 21 Alexa will answer a greater calling—entering the sacrament of marriage with Ari Goosen. "When I started dating (Ari) the first thing I told him was, ´I´m a Catholic, and if we get married we´ll raise the kids Catholic.´"
'Yahoo! Sports' recently reported on Kirstin Holum, a former Olympic speedskater now known as Sister Catherine of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. The daughter of Dianne Holum—an Olympic gold medalist and coach of the legendary Eric Heiden—Kirsten seemed destined for similar glory when at age 17 she finished sixth in the women´s 3000 meters at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan.
Yet a trip to Fatima soon changed those plans for this devout Catholic. "Speedskating was such a huge part of my life," Sr. Catherine told Yahoo! Sports. "I still loved the sport, but I had this incredibly strong calling that it was time to move on and take a different path in life."
"When I give I give my religious testimonies, it is fun to watch the reaction of the kids when I tell them I was in the Olympics," she said. "Their eyes get really big and they start paying a lot more attention. It is a great thing to share with them and it gives me a lot of pleasure to think back and talk about it."
Sr. Catherine has not looked back on her decision. "It is strange for me to think that things could have been different for me and I could have been at the Olympics again, but it wasn´t the Lord´s path for me and I have no regrets."
These champions of the Church inspire both in and out of the athletic arena, and we salute them for all of their accomplishments.
James Penrice is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and the author of numerous books. He is also a writer for the Catholic Athletes for Christ website.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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