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)–Rebekah Bradford knows about second chances.
She received one at the U.S. speedskating championships in December when she fell with only 30 feet to go in her last race. Bradford rebounded in her reskate to post a personal best and qualify for the Winter Olympics.
But an even greater rebound came five years earlier when Bradford, who had been raised in church before abandoning her Christian roots, decided that what she had been taught about Christianity was indeed true. She gave her life to the Lord and has since seen God work in her life through her speedskating.
“It’s not just a sport to me,” Bradford said. “It’s taught me so many life lessons. I feel like God uses our talents to bring us closer to Him, and He’s used speedskating to bring me to His heart.”
Skating was a part of her family’s life as Bradford was growing up in Minnesota. She began with figure skating but began speedskating because she wanted to be like her two brothers who were heavily involved with the sport. At age 13, Bradford left figure skating behind permanently to concentrate on speedskating.
She moved to Utah when she was 18 to continue her training. As she left home, she also left behind the Christian beliefs and doctrine she had been taught. She knew the Bible but had decided it was just a story with no relevance to her life.
“I think it was just mostly a hard teenage heart and not really seeing the big picture,” Bradford said. “At that point, skating was my religion. That’s what gave me status and merit.”
Bradford, however, had a void in her life that she tried to fill with anything she could find, resulting in what she described as a tormented lifestyle.
“I was actually in this relationship, and one of the things that ended it was that this gentleman called me a Christian,” Bradford recounted.
“I’m not a Christian,” she told him. “You don’t call me a Christian. This relationship is over.”
A few months later, on a whim, she attended a service at The Rock Church in Salt Lake City. As she sat there listening to the sermon, Bradford had a sense that God was speaking to her, affirming that everything she had learned as a child — that Jesus was God in the flesh, that He lived a sinless life and died on the cross to pay the penalty for sins, that He rose again from the dead — was true. That was the moment of her conversion, and she was baptized a week later.
Life became more joyful for Bradford, the tormented lifestyle now a thing of the past. She now sees speedskating as a form of worship in which she can feel God’s pleasure in using her talents to glorify Him.
“In my prayers I actually ask God, as if He’s my coach, what I should do,” Bradford said. “He’ll sometimes place thoughts in my head of what I need to work on or what to focus on. It’s helped me with my relationships with my coaches, with my teammates, my work ethic.”
That work ethic has led her to the Vancouver Olympics, where she will compete Feb. 18 in the women’s 1000 meters.
“It’s more of a performance goal I have for my race,” Bradford said. “I don’t know how I’m going to rank or place. Mostly I just want to go there and represent God well and I want to be able to race my heart out and do the best I can do, and take in all the experience.
“There are very few people who can experience going to the Olympic Games, and it’s such an honor and privilege,” Bradford said. “I expect to learn a lot, and I expect to race well.”
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/.