Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Hope for Sport

You are a great person, but I don't care about that.  Your intelligence is off the charts, but I don't care about that.  You think deeply, when you have the time, and have the potential to offer meaningful advice, but I don't care about that.  Now, your strength, speed, and instinct...those I can exploit...I mean... I value you.

Words so cruel are hardly ever spoken.  To say something so direct would not only raise eyebrows, but it would appall anyone with half a heart.  Yet this is the world of sports, and the world which high caliber athletes must live in as they pursue the highest attainable level of sport.  This is the attitude that takes a first love, and distorts it into an endless pursuit of value and an identity more fragile than your grandmother's fancy China.  These days, sports are nothing less than a business where the bottom line is the dollar.  Whether you're pending trial for a heinous act, or recovering from a debilitating injury that you sustained on the field, no less, you are simply an investment and the only question that matters is, "Can you produce results?"  The quality of your character is irrelevant.  We, as fans, and your coaches, and the team owners care more about the impossible catches you can make and your impressive résumé of wins, than the kind of person you are off the field.  Sure, you have a "great sponsor relationship" but when it comes down to it, when you're not worth what they're paying you anymore, they'll drop you like a hot coal.

You, as athletes know this and have adapted.  Your daily life, from sun-up to sun-down, and often past both ends, now consists of a series of completely self-centered decisions.  You can no longer afford to consider the well-being of others because you have to be the absolute best you can be if you want to keep your contract.  After all, it is a contract, and when you stop meeting your end... well you know that there is a wealth of talented people vying for your spot.  The sport you once loved because of the joy it brought you, has now enslaved you.  Your primary motivator to win is now the fear of losing.  Losing means you're worthless.

This is where Hope Sports steps in.

The world of athletics is the perfect breeding ground for a results-based identity.  This is where you come to believe that your value as a person is completely dissociated from your mind, thoughts, and personality, and based completely on what you are able to do, especially in your respective sport.  Ask any athlete if they are competitive, and you'll likely not only hear a resounding "yes" but also a list of examples proving it, or even a spontaneous challenge.

I have always considered myself a competitive person, but it wasn't until Hope Sports began to challenge the notion of a results-based identity that I realized how deeply ingrained into my personality was this idea of earning my value.  I've come to see it in myself when friends compliment another friend on something I consider myself more able.  I've seen it when people make well-meaning constructive criticisms, and I feel attacked and in jeopardy for some reason. I even saw it on my outreach in Mexico and Chile, when I realized I hadn't led anything for a while, and thought myself to be of no value to my team.  Competition is great, but it is not life.

All of this goes to speak to why I am so excited to be a part of the Hope Sports organization.  On my first trip to Tijuana, Mexico as an athlete, my mind was opened up to the possibility of tapping into a suppressed sense of value within myself.  I was given the opportunity to step outside of myself, away from the routine of decisions based on how they would affect my training, and use my God-given abilities to touch the lives of a family in need of a helping hand.  That weekend, my eyes were opened to the greater purpose of life.

It is this same revelation that I get to see in other athletes time and time again as they experience a service opportunity unlike any other.  I enjoy seeing the comradery that forms between athletes that have never met, as they work side by side to build a home.  I also enjoy seeing them recognize their level of privilege for being able to play a sport for a living, and live in extreme comfort in comparison to the hard-knock lives of the family they're building for.  But, what I love most is sitting and listening to the heartfelt, raw emotion during debrief at the end of the weekend, as I get to see in the eyes of the athletes the same thing I first felt in November of 2014--that they are worth so much more than the things they can do on a field.

What I love most about Hope Sports is that it is an unexpected two-way ministry.  Each weekend, athletes arrive excited to build a home and permanently change the lives of a family in desperate need. At the end of the weekend, however, while a family now has a home they could never have built for themselves, free of charge, it is the group of athletes that walks away feeling blessed. Through the weekend of service and the numerous talks from world class speakers with a heart to see athletes recognize the truth of their identity, the athletes are able to return to their sport and see it for what it is.  Sport is an expression of what you can do, but it never defines who you are.  The athletes have never previously met the family and will likely never meet again after parting ways.  But by showing this family unconditional love, for no real merit of their own, I believe the athletes can finally see for the first time their own value and merit for unconditional love as a basic human right, instead of having to win it.

I have been fortunate to meet and work with Olympians and professional athletes over the past year, from football to diving, and cycling to bobsledders and more.  I have been able to build alongside first-timers and athletes making an annual habit of the experience.  My role has largely been in meeting needs as they arise, from tasks like folding t-shirts, to orientation meetings, to transportation and hospitality.  Hope Sports is growing rapidly as athletes take hold of the movement. In its first couple years, groups of mostly cyclists came once a year.  Last year alone, ten homes were built by athletes from an even wider array of sports.  As the organization evolves, so will my role, and I am excited to see what the coming years will bring.  If you'd be interested in helping support me in this cause, please visit my fundraising page:
Through donating, you will be partnering with me to help more athletes enjoy this experience and expand the impact throughout Mexico.

I'll leave you all with one of the most touching and emotionally raw home builds from the past year. Professional cycling team Novo Nordisk made a home build part of their training camp.  For those who do not know, this cycling team is composed completely of athletes with diabetes.  They were able to come and build two homes for families impacted by diabetes, as well as provide numerous supplies and medical education on treatment.  You'll see from the video the massive financial and emotional impact from a single weekend.

To see more Hope Sports content visit:

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Blessed By Accident

I dream a lot.  Some of my dreams are very vivid and stick with me, some are reoccurring, and others fade away from memory before I can even open my eyes.  And then there are the nightmares.  There are the strange nightmares where for some reason lights won't turn on, the reoccurring nightmares where everything gets stolen from our garage, or I can't run properly (head nod to my impressively slow base-running skills), and then there are the nightmares that terrify me to the core, and wake me up in tears.  Nearly a month ago, one such nightmare verged on becoming reality.

A week before January drew to it's calendar end, I returned home from the gym to see my mom apprehensively rise from her computer chair, and slowly walk to face me in the living room.

"Chad's director called..."

In that moment I knew I didn't want to hear what came to follow.  Nothing good comes from the team director calling from training camp in Spain, out of the blue.

"The team was hit by a car going the wrong direction."

With my heart in my throat, preparing for that worst nightmare to come true, I waited with baited breath as my mom explained that Chad had sustained some sort of neck injury and was life-flighted from the accident to the nearest hospital.  He was stable, but that was all we knew.

I breathed a short sigh of relief before following the expected train of thought.  Neck injury? Head on collision? Would he ever ride again?  Would he even be able to walk?  How is it possible the guy I was just helping train in the weight room as I watched him make improvements in strength week after week, may have just lost his livelihood?  What about his fiance? How would she be handling all this?  What an unfair way to start an engagement. Suddenly, many of the conversations I had had with Chad crossed my mind, and I was confident he was about to walk away from the sport he loves so dearly.

In my experience with cycling, I developed a deep hatred for the sport.  Not because I didn't like riding, racing or anything that goes along with that.  No, I hated it because unlike any other sport, you have no choice but to put your life in the hands of other people, daily.  People you don't know.  People who may hate you simply because they have to slow down.  People who expressly believe that you forfeit your right to life because you get in the way on their drive to work.  Stay in cycling long enough, and you will have a number of close-call stories to relate to friends on any given day, and hear some in return.  You just hope they remain that--a close call.

Those first two days after the accident were the toughest.  We knew Chad was hurt, but not how badly.  We had a picture from the crash site of bikes broken into nearly unrecognizable pieces. Having seen my share of crashes that left people carrying bikes in two pieces, I had a good clue to the devastating impact that had to have taken place.  I tried not to think about it.

Initial crash scene photo

The new information trickled in throughout the day like molasses dripping from a faulty faucet.  Chad did not have his cell phone, if he was even conscious enough to use it.  The team was occupied with all six of its injured riders, and therefore understandably unable to supply regular updates.  All the while, my mom, dad, and I were relentlessly updating friends and family with the little information we knew, asking for all the prayers we could get.  It wasn't until the end of the night that I realized I hadn't had the chance to sit down and soak it all in.  I found myself lying on the couch, trying to go to sleep, avoiding the bed where the nightmares invade.

In the midst of it all, however, God was at work.  Miraculously, despite being cut from the base of his neck to his lip, by a car traveling the opposite direction, Chad sustained no head trauma, spinal damage, or damage to the major arteries or tendons in the incredibly critical area of his neck.  Chad's friends had already begun to pool money together to pay his fiance's way to Spain, and as a result she was there at his side when he needed a familiar face the most.

Thankful for Kate's willingness to travel at a moment's notice

Big improvements after a single week.

The night of the accident, my parents began to talk to me about the possibility of me flying to Spain to be with Chad.  My face lit up, as I have desperately wanted to visit him, but never had the finances or opportunity to make it a reality.  Now, despite the unfavorable circumstances, maybe it would be possible.  Then God pulled through again, as we got contacted by Chad's previous team, offering to fly me over to be with him on their miles.  Done!

Thanks to their generosity, I had the opportunity to spend nearly a month with my best friend and brother as he recovered, without having to worry about the cost, or trouble my parents with the flight arrangements.

To help you fully understand what this means for me, I suppose I should back-track just a little bit. As anyone who has spent any measure of time around Chad and me could testify, we are basically the same person.  Watching back old home videos, you can see we were sharp-looking pals from the beginning.  We have always been best friends by blood, but it wasn't until this past year that we became best friends by choice.  In the last year, my relationship with my brother has gone from sharing fun experiences, to sharing the deepest secrets of our hearts.  He has been a huge support for me as I work through some very difficult personal issues, and we have opened up to one another in a way that has taken us to a level of friendship never touched before.

I am beyond grateful for the changes in our relationship that have come through the last year, but filled with regret that it took us so long-- through so many years of living together including college years where we slept mere feet from each other-- to open up.  Now, knowing that Chad would soon be off to get married, I saw that new relationship beginning to slip away.  As Chad left for Spain in early January, I had a pretty major breakdown, I'm not ashamed to admit.  His fiance had stayed with our family right up until their flights.  Kate is a joy to be around, do not get me wrong, we all love her as family already.  But the nightly bro-talks I had grown so fond of, were just not possible.  So, as Chad flew off to Spain, I sat and thought about the next time I would see him-- the wedding.  Our relationship as best friends would officially be over the next time I saw him, as I rightfully slipped into second place.  I hurt to know that we would never have a time together again, with the same dynamic we have had from day one.

(Didn't want this to happen! Just watch 10:30 to 14:04)

Now cut to February.  Despite the horror of the accident, I was given an opportunity to spend time with Chad again, as best friend brothers one last time.  I was given the gift of showing him a fraction of the support and love he has shown me emotionally and financially in the past year as he helped me to pursue my personal dreams.  I got to watch him recover, and make improvements daily.  I got to be his personal chef, making sure he had the food he needed at any moment of the day.  I got to watch the smile on his face, literally, grow by the day.  We got to laugh like the old days, and then laugh harder as Chad held half of his face to keep stitches from popping.

Kate and I intentionally made him laugh to document the famous face hold.

My explorations were basically non-existent, and I admit I failed to really discover Spain, but my trip was not at all lacking.  My days generally consisted of making breakfast, going to the gym, grocery shopping, then making lunch, cleaning the apartment, and then making dinner.  Chad quickly returned to riding the bike, yet all of his energy went into whatever ride he was doing, and then in exhaustion, recovering the rest of the day.  Had I not taken the time to focus myself on the purpose of my trip before-hand, I would be home now, deeply disappointed.  But, because I knew from the start that my purpose was to help Chad first, and be a tourist second, I got infinitely more from my time there.  Sure, most of my day was confined to a tiny two bedroom apartment, slaving in the kitchen, but I was fulfilling my job, and showing as much love to my brother as I possibly could.

 My reward was seeing Chad progress from a crooked shuffle for a walk the day I arrived, to a fully mobile (and already training again!) cyclist once again.  I also got to watch in awe as his faith, and sense of humor gave him the most positive attitude in the face of adversity that I have ever seen.  If ever I have seen an example of living out James 1:2-4, I saw it there in Spain.

I cannot thank enough the people who made this possible for me.  A huge thank you to Rally Cycling for making it happen.

Through it all, I have come to recognize how immeasurably blessed I was by an accident.  But it was no accident.

My last day in Spain.  Chad's recovery is remarkable.