VANCOUVER — Kelly Clark
wasn’t about to sit back and let her life fall to pieces. The Olympic athlete
should have been excited with the direction her life was taking, but she wasn’t.
So one night, she walked up to a fellow snowboarder’s hotel room and knocked on
“My name’s Kelly,” Clark announced. “I think you might be a Christian, and I
think you need to tell me about God.”
That was the start of a five-month journey in 2004 that led Clark, a 2002
Olympic gold medal winner and member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic snowboarding team
in Vancouver, from despair and hopelessness to faith and freedom.
“I thought being a Christian was going to church and following rules and all
sorts of religious things,” Clark said. “But it’s about having a relationship
Clark will compete in the women’s halfpipe Feb. 18.
Growing up in the mountain town of Mt. Snow, Vt., snowboarding became Clark’s
passion early in life. At age 18, she was competing in her first Olympics in
Salt Lake City in the women’s halfpipe, garnering the gold medal.
In addition to the Olympics, Clark won championships in the U.S. Open and X
Games as well.
“I had every successful thing going for me,” Clark said. “I’d won every major
snowboard event you could ever dream about winning. I thought that when you are
successful, you’re happy. From an outside perspective I was living the dream. I
had all the success and all the things you could ever dream about. But I found
that it wasn’t very fulfilling.”
During a competition in 2004, Clark sat in her hotel room writing in her
journal. If this is what life is, she wrote, if this was everything it had to
offer, she didn’t want to do it anymore. She didn’t care if she woke up the
next day, and didn’t think anyone else cared.
That’s when an encounter at the competition changed her life. Clark qualified
for the finals as she typically did. But when a fellow competitor failed to
qualify, Clark overheard a conversation when a friend reassuringly, almost in a
joking manner, said, “Hey, it’s all right. God still loves you.”
That statement, made innocuously, had an impact on Clark and began stirring
something in her that she couldn’t deny. She went back to her hotel room and
opened up the Bible placed there by the Gideons. She started reading but didn’t
know where to start and wasn’t sure what she was reading. That’s when she
walked down the hall and knocked on her competitor’s door.
After that encounter, Clark spent the next several weeks thinking about the
Lord and investigating the claims of Jesus Christ. She eventually concluded
that God was indeed there, that He loved her and that He was already active in
her life, and she became a follower of Christ, leaving behind the drudgery she
had felt in recent years.
“I was getting my self-worth from what I did, and my identity was really
wrapped up in snowboarding and the success that it brought me,” Clark said.
But after becoming a Christian, she began learning that she didn’t have to do
anything for God to love her or for her life to have purpose.
“It ended up freeing up my snowboarding more so than ever,” she Clark. “I was
no longer going from event to event to feel good about myself. I had that apart
from what I did. And so my snowboarding has been dramatically impacted. My
snowboarding got a lot more free.
“Now I’m able to really enjoy it again.”
(EDITOR’ S NOTE — Ellsworth, in addition to his role as BPSports editor, is
director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)