Board for the Lord
ASPEN ” If Jesus was a snowboarder, Hannah Teter begins to explain, he’d be ripping this pipe so hard. He’d thrash. He’d blow us all away.
This, from the voice of a 17-year-old professional snowboarder who could claim divine right when it came down to winning events ” it’s all she does. Yet, when the 2003 X Games superpipe champion finished first at the Grand Prix in Breckenridge last December, she was asked about her television interview. “I’m super stoked,” she had said into the camera. “I’m stoked.”
“I should have thanked God,” Teter concluded. “I don’t do that near enough.”
The credibility of professional snowboarders has been questioned for years by people who assume the athletes smoke enough pot to hang ornaments on ” and they go no deeper.
However, snowboarders with a different mindset are changing the shallow, punk stereotype ” whether they mean to or not.
Enter Luke Wynen. In 1998, the snowboarder-with-promise found himself at The Lighthouse church in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., under the tutilage of Pastor Dave Nelson. Like Wynen, Nelson had bucked a stereotype by being a minister who encouraged worship in a social atmosphere. He threw out the wooden pews, and found sermonizing to be less effective than simple encouragement over dinner.
“In my teen years,” Wynen said, “I decided to do my own thing. I didn’t know God and I didn’t have him in my life. Dave Nelson took an active interest. His questions were tough.
“We were just at Carl’s Jr. two days ago,” Wynen continued, “and he was asking me how God was working in my life. You can cut off things in your life, he was telling me, but not your relationship with the Lord.”
Wynen, who rides a snowboard with a “Jesus” bumper sticker angled across the top, reaffirmed his faith with Nelson, whose son, Chris, is also a pro snowboarder. Wynen credits Nelson with planting the Christian seed, and the mindset he was able to take into the next four years of competitive snowboarding.
Wynen would win events all over the world during that time, but his streak slowed ” almost to a stop ” before the 2002 Vans Triple Crown in Breckenridge. His sponsors bailed, he thought about retiring, but two things kept him on the tour. His fiance Danielle Wynen (now his wife of two-and-a-half years) saw the joy snowboarding gave him, and his friends thought he could still compete.
With a credit card and a prayer, Wynen traveled to the event and won.
Three months ago, 2002 Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark was saved at The Lighthouse. Through prayer and encouragement, Wynen said, she used the church to place God back in her life.
“Her relationship with Jesus is very personal,” he said. “But you need to hear that from her.”
She’s not alone. She now falls in a group of big names like Keir Dillon (2004 X Games superpipe bronze medalist ), Tommy Czeshin (2004 Breckenridge Grand Prix champion), Andy Finch and Matt Hammer who find opportunities on the road to share their testimonials to youth in the community.
Dillon’s wife, Julie (also of two years), is a good friend of Clark’s. She has seen the change in personality, the change in focus and the change in how she’s approached life.
“I heard her tell her life story to somebody the other day,” Julie said. “And I saw it dawn on her what this kind of faith meant. She has everything in the world ” she won the Olympics, she’s rich ” but only after she came into Christ did she become satisfied with who she is. God just grabbed her and told her the truth.”
At the Grand Prix in Breckenridge in December, Wynen, Dillon and a crew of athletes visited Agape Outpost church after the competition. They shared stories of faith with kids and adults, and they saw the positive reaction in the faces they came to see.
“It was just as good for us,” Dillon said. “And the adults, well they saw we weren’t just a bunch of egos.”
“On a deeper level, one of the things I’ve struggled with is spreading the gospel,” Wynen added. “We encourage other riders ” we’re not working on them ” but we are encouraging them to join us at these get-togethers. Some events, we’ll have a prayer meeting where we worship the Lord before we ride.”
These prayer meetings often are held at the top of the halfpipe moments before an event begins. With goggles on their head and boots on their feet, they don’t pray for victory. Instead, they pray for their faith to teach them lessons about who they are. Because of this approach, you’ll rarely see them thanking God after a run.
“I just try to ask God not to let me be such a darrell after I wreck, or when I want to get angry at myself and curse and jump up and down ” all the cliched things athletes do,” Dillon said. “But I still get mad. I’m a work in progress.”
For Teter, her reputation as a champion puts her in a position to be a role model. She hopes she can live up to that expectation.
“Little girls come up to me and say, ‘You’re my hero. I love you,'” she said. “I do have a powerful gift. I hope to use that power ” if that’s really the right word ” to impact people in a positive light, with God or not.”
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