EDITOR’S NOTE: BPSports editor Tim Ellsworth has been in Vancouver for Baptist Press’ coverage of the Winter Olympics, with credentialing from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Ellsworth will be writing about various Christian athletes and how they fare in their respective competitions. Additional reports will be provided by a media team from the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board on ministry-related initiatives in conjunction with the Winter Games.
WHISTLER, British Columbia (BP)–John Napier couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Here his father was dying in the hospital, and in walked Derek Spain, pastor of Lake Placid Baptist Church, who had driven more than two hours to visit him.
“It kind of astounded me that this guy drove five hours total that day just to see my father,” Napier said. “Who would do that? What kind of human being? It was my first witness of Christ-like love.”
Napier’s father died two days later, but that encounter set Napier on the path to faith in Jesus Christ. Now, five years later, making his debut as the youngest bobsled pilot at the Winter Olympics, the 23-year-old says he owes all his success to the Lord.
“I’m trying to walk as close as I can and do everything I can for His glory,” Napier said. “Because I realize that He saved me on numerous occasions. When I could have fallen, He’s been there to catch me.”
His father’s death was the first of two major valleys Napier has navigated in his life, which has always centered on bobsledding, largely stemming from his parents both being bobsledders. His father was diagnosed with cancer when Napier was 18 but was able to see John’s first World Cup race before he died.
“After he passed away, I was devastated,” Napier said.
That’s when he began attending a Bible study to which Spain invited him. As a bobsledder, Napier spent a lot of time training and competing in Lake Placid. Since Spain had ministered to Napier by visiting his father in the hospital, Napier figured he owed Spain at least a few visits to the Bible study.
Until then, Napier had grown up Catholic but had never been taught about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He did a lot of studying and a lot of learning over the next few months, and decided he needed to give up some of his worldly lifestyle — women, alcohol and even drugs. So there was a change in Napier’s life, but not a complete one.
“It was kind of a halfhearted walk, still,” he said.
The second valley for Napier came after a girl he had been dating ended the relationship. That sent Napier plunging into despair yet again.
“Instead of putting God first, I put her first, and that was a huge problem,” he said.
But Napier would soon discover how God would take the hardest chapters in his life and turn them into something good. A friend told him to read Jeremiah 29:11. He did, and the Lord used that verse to open Napier’s eyes. Tired of living halfheartedly for God, he called Spain to step forward in baptism.
“From there on, it’s just been an awesome walk with people who have been guiding me — other Christians, my pastor,” Napier said.
Spain has seen the difference in Napier’s life.
“He is now deeply committed to Christ,” Spain said. “He and I have great conversations about the Word of God and what God’s doing in his life, not only changing his behavior but giving him hope and focus and joy and strength and all those blessings that we have in Christ.”
Now bobsledding has taken on a new significance for Napier, and his successes on the track have given him opportunities to talk to a broader audience about what Christ has done in his life.
“Maybe He wants to use me for an instrument of His glory,” Napier said. “Maybe He wants to use me to show that you can be humble and respectful in defeat. I don’t know why He’s using me.”
This year has been a breakout season for Napier, who came out of nowhere to win the World Cup in Lake Placid — a lifelong dream come true for him. Now he’s anxious to see what the Lord has in store for him in Vancouver. He competes Feb. 20-21 in the two-man bobsled and Feb. 26-27 in the four-man bobsled.
“I should not be accomplishing what I am, in my eyes or in a lot of people’s eyes,” Napier said. “But I am. He’s pushing me down that track.”
Tim Ellsworth, in addition to his role as BPSports editor, is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. For additional BP stories from the Winter Olympics, go to http://www.bpnews.net/BPCollectionNews.asp?ID=166. For Tim Ellsworth’s blog from Vancouver, go to http://www.bpnews.net/blog/.