OLYMPICS: Faith made Kelly Clark's snowboarding 'a lot more free'

EDITOR'S NOTE: BPSports editor Tim Ellsworth is in Vancouver for Baptist Press' coverage of the Winter Olympics, with credentialing from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Also credentialed there is Mike Ebert, communications team leader for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. Ellsworth will be writing about various Christian athletes and how they fare in their respective competitions, while Ebert will be covering ministry-related initiatives in conjunction with the Winter Games.

VANCOUVER (BP)--Kelly Clark wasn't about to sit back and let her life fall to pieces. The Olympic athlete should have been excited with the direction her life was taking, but she wasn't. So one night, she walked up to a fellow snowboarder's hotel room and knocked on the door.

"My name's Kelly," Clark announced. "I think you might be a Christian, and I think you need to tell me about God."

That was the start of a five-month journey in 2004 that led Clark, a 2002 Olympic gold medal winner and member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic snowboarding team in Vancouver, from despair and hopelessness to faith and freedom.

"I thought being a Christian was going to church and following rules and all sorts of religious things," Clark said. "But it's about having a relationship with Jesus."

Clark will compete in the women's halfpipe Feb. 18.

Growing up in the mountain town of Mt. Snow, Vt., snowboarding became Clark's passion early in life. At age 18, she was competing in her first Olympics in Salt Lake City in the women's halfpipe, garnering the gold medal.

In addition to the Olympics, Clark won championships in the U.S. Open and X Games as well.

"I had every successful thing going for me," Clark said. "I'd won every major snowboard event you could ever dream about winning. I thought that when you are successful, you're happy. From an outside perspective I was living the dream. I had all the success and all the things you could ever dream about. But I found that it wasn't very fulfilling."

During a competition in 2004, Clark sat in her hotel room writing in her journal. If this is what life is, she wrote, if this was everything it had to offer, she didn't want to do it anymore. She didn't care if she woke up the next day, and didn't think anyone else cared.

That's when an encounter at the competition changed her life. Clark qualified for the finals as she typically did. But when a fellow competitor failed to qualify, Clark overheard a conversation when a friend reassuringly, almost in a joking manner, said, "Hey, it's all right. God still loves you."

That statement, made innocuously, had an impact on Clark and began stirring something in her that she couldn't deny. She went back to her hotel room and opened up the Bible placed there by the Gideons. She started reading but didn't know where to start and wasn't sure what she was reading. That's when she walked down the hall and knocked on her competitor's door.

After that encounter, Clark spent the next several weeks thinking about the Lord and investigating the claims of Jesus Christ. She eventually concluded that God was indeed there, that He loved her and that He was already active in her life, and she became a follower of Christ, leaving behind the drudgery she had felt in recent years.

"I was getting my self-worth from what I did, and my identity was really wrapped up in snowboarding and the success that it brought me," Clark said.

But after becoming a Christian, she began learning that she didn't have to do anything for God to love her or for her life to have purpose.

"It ended up freeing up my snowboarding more so than ever," she Clark. "I was no longer going from event to event to feel good about myself. I had that apart from what I did. And so my snowboarding has been dramatically impacted. My snowboarding got a lot more free.

"Now I'm able to really enjoy it again."


Tim Ellsworth, in addition to his role as BPSports editor, is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. For Baptist Press' initial stories on the faith stories of U.S. Olympians, go to http://bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=32273, http://bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=32289 and http://bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=32301. For Tim Ellsworth's blog from Vancouver, go to http://www.bpnews.net/blog/.

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