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Olympics hoops star sustained by faith

BEIJING (BP)–Tamika Catchings, a leading field goal shooter on the U.S. women’s basketball team, has been articulate about her faith playing a key role in her development as an athlete at the top of her game.

When the United States beat South Korea 104-60 in the quarterfinals Aug. 19, Catchings scored six points on 3-of-3 shooting, adding five rebounds and two assists in a little more than 13 minutes. In six games, she has played an average of 13:52 and scored 7.3 points per game on 18-for-22 shooting with an Achilles’ tendon injury.

In a Sharing the Victory magazine article published by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Catchings, 29, discusses her transformation from a shy physically-challenged girl into one of today’s leading WNBA players.

“The biggest thing was that because I had a hearing problem, I had a speech problem, and I also had to wear glasses,” she said of her younger years. “I was different. Kids can be so cruel at that age. They would ask, ‘Why are you different?’ ‘Why do you wear those?’ ‘Why do you talk like that?’ They would call me ‘four eyes’ and ‘monster’ and make fun of the way I sounded when I talked. And I just didn’t understand why I had to be so different.”

But she excelled academically and at sports because she didn’t have to talk much.

“Both were outlets for me because on the basketball court, most of the communication is sign language. And in school, the teachers did all the talking,” Catchings told Sharing the Victory.

Also, when people teased her, she learned to challenge them to a round on the basketball court, and soon children realized she wasn’t an easy teasing target. That helped her develop an attitude of perseverance, she said.

Though she was raised in church, Catchings said her faith didn’t really take root until she joined FCA at the University of Tennessee.

“It allowed me to talk about different situations that I wouldn’t have normally talked about,” she told the magazine. “Growing up an introvert, I wasn’t able to express how I felt. FCA made it easier to talk because people understood what I was going through and the different emotions that I felt as an athlete.”

All along, she dreamed of being drafted by the WNBA but then suffered an injury her senior year, just months before the draft. What seemed at the time like a significant disappointment turned out to be something God would use to draw her into a closer walk with Him.

“Being an athlete, sometimes you start to worship your sport. You lose focus of what is important in life because basketball is what you do,” Catchings said, according to Sharing the Victory. “I went to school, but when it came down to it, I was missing classes for games, missing church for games. Basketball was what I was thinking about when I woke up.

“From the moment of my injury, my relationship with Christ began to grow. And to this day, I continue doing Our Daily Bread [devotional booklet] Bible studies, trying to focus on Him and figuring out what I can do through Him,” she said.

It turned out that Catchings was drafted by the Indiana Fever despite her injury.

“They wanted me even though I was a little broken,” she said. “But God had gone before me and prepared the road, even though I got hurt. My first season I got rookie of the year, and we even made it to the playoffs for the first time. He was definitely preparing the road for me.”

Catchings said she continues to have prayer and Bible study time with fellow WNBA players and her outlook on life has changed. Despite being one of the most decorated athletes in her field, she still sees herself as a regular person, she told the magazine.

In addition to her rookie of the year award, Catchings also won the 2000 ESPY award for college player of the year, the 2000 Naismith National Player of the Year award, a 2004 Olympic gold medal and the 2005 and 2006 WNBA defensive player of the year awards. She also led the Fever in points, rebounds, assists and steals for four straight seasons.

Catchings established the Catch the Stars Foundation in 2004 to organize academic and sports-related programs for at-risk kids and to prepare them to “catch their dreams, one star at a time,” Sharing the Victory noted.

The U.S. women were scheduled to take on Russia in the semifinals Aug. 21 in their effort defend their gold. Going into the semifinals, the U.S. women had notched 31 Olympic victories in a row.

“You get the chills, knowing what the Olympics stand for. This is about so much more than us as individuals,” Catchings told the Chicago Tribune. “This is the one stage, the one platform that no matter what country you’re in, people are watching. That’s what makes being here so cool.”
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

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