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Speed skater, chaplain/ski coach ponder their Olympic moments

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Now that the excitement and emotion from the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, have had a few days to subside, those who participated in the games have had a chance to reflect.

Some, like U.S. speed skater Clay Mull, are looking back with fondness, knowing that this was probably their only chance ever to compete in the Olympics.

Mull is tentatively planning to retire from the sport. He’s expecting to go to school to study either respiratory therapy or radiological technology.

“Knowing that this could be my last Olympics definitely made competing much more special,” Mull said. “I really feel like if I were to retire now I would still be going out on a high note. Of course winning a medal would have been wonderful, but I still feel like it was a dream accomplished.”

Others, like Canadian pastor Steve Sellers, are looking forward to the next Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, and the ministry opportunities such an event will provide. Sellers served as a chaplain during the Olympics in Turin and was a coach for Arturo Kinch, the Costa Rican cross-country skier. Sellers also is the year-round chaplain for the National Sports Center in Calgary, where athletes from around the world come to train and compete.

“We’ve been meeting with the organizers already to set up the chaplaincy for that,” Sellers, a Southern Baptist, said. “Our country’s pouring a lot of money into it, just like the U.S. did four years ago at Salt Lake.”

For Mull, the Olympics were the capstone to his speed skating career. Mull competed in Turin in the team pursuit -– the event marred by controversy because of Shani Davis’ decision not to participate.

But despite the negative press surrounding the team, Mull enjoyed his experience nonetheless.

“The opening ceremonies, of course, were a big highlight,” he said. “Getting to race in the Olympics was probably the biggest. Just being there and enjoying the Olympic experience was amazing.”

But Mull thinks there was more to his presence at the Olympics than “it was just a cool experience for me to have.” He knows that God wanted him there for a reason.

“I really don’t know what that is yet, but I am so excited to eventually find out,” Mull said. “God has been so good to me. I hope that I can be used in some way for his purpose. One of the biggest things God did for me is that he let me race without being nervous. It helped my performances so much. He helped me skate outside myself.”

His Christian faith helps him as an athlete, Mull said, because he realizes that speed skating is not the most important thing in the world -– a frame of mind that he says is immensely freeing.

“I can give this to the Lord and he will help me do my best, and no matter what the outcome is, if it is God’s will for me to do well, then I will,” Mull said. “I think a non-Christian athlete has to carry this burden themselves. That’s a pretty heavy burden to carry, and doing it alone is much more nerve racking and harder than if you have another purpose.”

His purpose for the immediate future is to take some time off and enjoy being home with his family. He now lives in Salt Lake City but will be moving back to his home in Gastonia, N.C., for school and his future career.

But while he plans to retire from the sport, “there is always that chance that I would continue down the road if that is where I felt God leading me.”

As for Sellers, pastor of Alpine Christian Ministries in Canmore, Alberta, Canada, he served as a chaplain during the games in Turin and had an opportunity to minister to several athletes, including those from some closed countries like Nepal and Albania.

One of his most poignant moments during the Olympics came when he encountered Ann Abernathy in the dining hall. Abernathy, who competed in the luge, had crashed her sled the day before the final race and wasn’t able to race in the finals.

Sellers had been trying to catch up with her because she’s a family friend and was a regular at his Bible studies in Canada. When he found her in the dining hall, “she was very down and really needed encouragement,” he said.

Sellers prayed with her and talked with her for a while, trying to lift her spirits. He didn’t see her again for the rest of the Olympics.

“The time when she needed me there, God engineered it,” he said.

It was in his capacity in coaching the Costa Rican cross-country skier that Sellers was able to distribute copies of the “JESUS” DVD to athletes competing in Turin.

“I wasn’t allowed to do that as chaplain, but I was allowed to do it as a coach,” Sellers said. “So I just kind of put my coach’s hat on and gave that out to guys.”

Now Sellers is turning his attention to Vancouver. Though not a native Canadian, he’s working toward becoming a Canadian citizen, and he’s proud to have the Olympics in his country.

When the Olympics last came to Canada -– 1988 in Calgary -– Sellers said he knew of no Winter Olympians who were Christians.

“Now there are tons of them,” Sellers said. “God has moved and worked in this part of the athletic world.”

One of the shining examples is Cindy Klassen, who won five medals for Canada in Turin. Klassen attends Sellers’ Bible study regularly.

“We talked a lot about peaking spiritually, not just physically, for the Olympics,” Sellers said. “She really did that. In her interviews, she had a very strong testimony for the Lord. I was really proud of her.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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