Olympian’s Redemption: Fighting for Victory, Greater Than Gold

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By David Boudia

In Summary: One of America’s most heralded young divers; David Boudia twice went for Olympic gold, training obsessively and whole-heartedly for success. In his first Olympics, he failed miserably, not winning a single medal. Four years later, saw a different story: he mounted the podium twice, winning both gold and bronze. The difference? In the intervening years, he’d changed the focus of his quest from seeking glory for himself to giving glory to God. The US-Silver medalist at the ongoing Rio 2016 Olympics, David Boudia, shares his Christian-inspired approach to the game of diving in his new book, “Greater Than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption.” He provides a behind-the-scenes access to the rarefied world of world-class athletics while also showing readers that when they place their hope in God, they receive what they’ve been seeking all along.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Congratulations, David Boudia on Winning Silver at Rio 2016 for the USA!

After I became a Christian in fall 2009, diving took on a new life for me. Though I originally struggled with the desire to continue diving, I eventually got back into my routine and my love for the sport. I came to enjoy diving more for the experience of it, with Christ now as the center of my life. I focused on things other than just winning and feeding my own ego.

This new attitude was put to the test in spring 2010, my sophomore year at Purdue. Though I had been dominant in regular meets all season long, I lost to a teammate in the Big 10 Diving Championship that year. I wasn’t at the top of my game, and he dove better than I did that day. That was a situation I wasn’t used to. It showed me I wasn’t invincible. It also showed me how important it was not to keep my identity wrapped up in my success in the sport but to remind myself that my value and worth rested in Christ — not what I did in the pool.

Diving was something that I did. It was not who I was, and it didn’t define me. I’m not defined by my success or my failure but by who I am in Christ. The rest of my collegiate career at Purdue was immensely successful. I turned professional after my junior year, so I only competed collegiately for three years. Still, I won six NCAA titles. I was the Big 10 Male Athlete of the Year and the Purdue Male Athlete of the Year in 2011. It was a great experience, but college success wasn’t my goal. My goal was London and the 2012 Olympics.

I had accomplished pretty much everything I wanted to at the college level, and turning professional allowed me to get sponsors, make public appearances, and support myself financially. I remained at Purdue as a student. The university supported my decision and so did Adam Soldati, which meant a lot and affirmed to me that I’d made the right choice. It also showed me that Purdue was more than just about athletics. It was about preparing students for their post-college careers too.

Becoming a Christian radically changed how I approached my sport. I used to go into competitions focused solely on winning, and I would do whatever I had to do to make that happen. I didn’t worry about how I treated people. I was focused only on myself. Now, however, I went into competitions with an entirely different purpose: loving God and loving others. I never did this perfectly, of course, but that was my objective. Yes, the competition was important, and I wanted to win. But rather than focus on winning, I tried to focus on ways I could love my teammates and ways I could be different on the pool deck. That meant striking up conversations with people I didn’t know, and, quite frankly, sometimes didn’t want to talk to. But it got me outside of myself. My biggest attitude shift going into a competition (and in everyday life) was this: I was not the point. The whole competition, whether I succeeded or failed, was not about me. At the end of the day, I knew God was working all things out for my good, and He was doing what He needed to do to make me more like Jesus, no matter what the outcome of the competition was. Comprehending this took a huge burden away from me. When I experienced defeat and failure, I wasn’t wrapped up in it. Ultimately, it was not important whether I was happy with my performance or not, because God was going to use either defeat or success to make me more like Jesus.

David Boudia alongside teammate Steele Johnson

It was a rocky road sometimes. I experienced great spiritual highs and difficult lows. But I tried to learn as much as I could through the process. I’m immensely grateful that Adam, who remained my coach even after I finished competing for Purdue, was there to walk beside me the entire time. It was almost like he was holding my hand as if I were a child, because that’s exactly what I was. As I began getting more faithful and more serious about my walk, these competitions brought new challenges. I started drawing up a battle plan specifically for each competition.

These plans would include my spiritual goals for how I would walk faithfully with the Lord, the Scripture verses I would memorize, the sermons I would listen to, what I would read during my devotions, and other ways I could direct my mind during competitions. Why was this so important for me? Because competitions can be especially hazardous times in the life of a believer. Everything is all about the athlete. Organizers offer massages left and right. The food is all catered to my needs. I have refreshments. I have outfitting. I’m given everything and waited on hand and foot. In this environment, it’s easy to become consumed with self. It’s easy for me to start thinking that I’m hot stuff if I’m treated this way.

On top of that, competitions take me away from other believers. I’m away from my church and my circle of support. That separation made me realize how important the church is for me as a Christian. The Bible calls the church “the body of Christ,” because no part of a body can live on its own (Romans 12:5). Likewise, this walk cannot be done alone. When I was away from my church, I found it easier to fall back into my old ways of thinking. I definitely missed the influence of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who could speak truth into my life.

David Boudia alongside teammate Steele Johnson

In a sense, my diving competitions are still the height of spiritual warfare for me. Christians are always in a war against sin, but for me, that fight is more intense during competitions. If I don’t fight my sin, it’s going to annihilate me. That’s what my battle plans are for. In the absence of my community, I map out who’s going to hold me accountable for purity and who’s going to hold me accountable for smoking. I plan it all out so I’m spiritually prepared going into competitions. I set spiritual goals as well as athletic goals. This was a total transformation from my previous life. After my conversion in 2009, my perspective wasn’t all about me and my success and trying to be a rich, famous stud. Instead, my perspective was based on bringing myself under the submission of Christ and seeing him glorified in my life.

Now, that’s not to say that winning isn’t important. Just because I had become a Christian and winning was no longer my top priority doesn’t mean that I didn’t pursue it. My competitive nature still burned within me. So while God commands me to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and while He commands me to love others around me (Mark 12:30–31), that’s not at odds with a desire to win. And guess what? The Bible doesn’t say God doesn’t want me to win.

David Boudia alongside teammate Steele Johnson

God doesn’t call me to hold back from training hard or to hold back in a competition, because that’s not pleasing to Him. In fact, I think it’s contradictory to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Christians follow the Lord by doing everything with excellence because God does all things with excellence. Being excellent is a character trait of God, so when we pursue it, we are modeling ourselves after Him.

When I compete, I’m doing it for the glory of God. In any given competition I can be a finger pointing to God’s goodness and a light shining on His faithfulness. I don’t have to tear others down or do whatever it takes to win. If I choose to do it that way, that’s disobedience and a perversion of what God requires of us. But to work hard and do my best, to love others around me, that brings honor to God when I’m on the platform.

What are you doing to the glory of God? What are you giving your very best to? What area of your life could be re-envisioned as an opportunity to love God and love others?  

Source: Excerptions from Greater Than Gold by David Boudia.  Published by Thomas Nelson. Copyright 2016 HarperCollins Christian Publishing, All Rights Reserved.

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