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. The Olympics’ opening ceremony is tonight (Feb. 12).
VANCOUVER (BP)–Olympic gold medalist Chad Hedrick certainly thinks he has the ability to contend for more hardware at this year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
But more important than medals to Hedrick is the opportunity this year’s Olympics will give him to talk about his newfound faith in Jesus Christ, and to show the world the way in which the Lord has changed him.
“I want people to see God in my life,” Hedrick said.
Yes, the 2010 version of Hedrick is a long way from the Hedrick of old, the Hedrick who, according to his Wikipedia page, earned the nickname “the Paris Hilton of speedskating” for his active nightlife. He grew up in Houston, which he says is probably the last place that an ice speedskater would be raised. Hedrick’s dad owned a roller rink, so Hedrick was a self-described “rink rat” as a kid. He started roller skating at age 2 and spent several hours a day on wheels until age 12.
By then, inline skates were the rage, so Hedrick switched and began competing on an international level as an inline skater. He was a world champion for nine straight years and began to have aspirations of competing in the Olympics — so he switched again to the ice to pursue that dream. Within 18 months, he won the world championship in 2004.
Olympic glory soon followed, as Hedrick won three medals at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy — gold in the 5,000 meters, silver in the 10,000 meters and bronze in the 1,500 meters. But all the success did little to provide purpose for Hedrick’s life.
“You grow up, and when people ask you if you’re a Christian, the proper thing to say is, ‘Yeah, I’m a Christian,'” Hedrick said. “But saying you’re a Christian and living like a Christian are two completely different things.”
Hedrick in recent months began noticing how people around him were living, including the quality of the lives of those who professed to be Christians. He was intrigued by what he saw. He began asking questions of those people and investigating Christianity, ultimately choosing to place his faith in Christ and be baptized at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, in November. His wife Lynsey was baptized with him.
“Now I don’t just say I’m a Christian,” Hedrick said. “Now I live like one.”
The transformation in Hedrick’s life was speedy and significant. Whereas before, Hedrick was abrasive and rough, especially when he lost, now he’s a better sport. Before, he had a “me against the world” mentality, in which he felt a strong compulsion to prove that he was the best. Now he says his values and his perspective are different. His personality, he says, has been polished by God.
“I realize that whatever happens, if I go and give 100 percent, God has avenues that He wants me to follow,” Hedrick said. “With every experience I have in life He’s trying to teach me something and point me in the direction that He thinks I should go.”
For now, that direction is Vancouver, where Hedrick will compete in four events — the 5,000 meters (Feb. 13), 1000 meters (Feb. 17), 1500 meters (Feb. 20) and team pursuit (Feb. 26-27). And no matter the outcome of those races, Hedrick says he will be content, especially if his story causes others to note the way that his life has changed.
“I feel like I’m — I don’t want to be conceited and say a role model — but I’m proof that somebody who had an active nightlife as the wild guy in his sport could even see the light and made the best of the situation,” Hedrick said. “When people see that I’m a Christian, there’s proof that even the wild guy can find the light.”
Tim Ellsworth, in addition to his role as BPSports editor, is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.