During the Olympic opening ceremonies 205 countries and two independent teams participated in the parade of nations. Teams were identified by their national flags, colors, and distinctive uniforms.
Rio is awash in jerseys, uniforms, flags, t-shirts, hats, and pins that identify fans and athletes by their home country.
One reason we love the Olympics is because these athletes remind us of our identity as a country and the spirit we have as Americans. The America dream is embodied in many of these athletes. Americans are driven. We believe in sacrifice. We believe in hope. We believe in second chances and many of these athletes have failed or come up short of their dreams more than once, but now they are Olympians.
Two of our Olympians, David Boudia and Steele Johnson, were silver medalists in the 10-meter platform synchro competition. While they came in second to the Chinese, who synchro divers dive together for years, amazingly, David and Steele’s first competition together took place recently during the Olympic Trials.
During an interview following their second place finish, David Boudia, the 10-meter platform gold medalist in the London Olympics spoke about an identity crisis he’s had in the sport.
“When my mind is on this (pointing out to the diving well) and I think that I’m defined by this, my mind goes crazy, but we just know that our identity is in Christ. We’re thankful for the opportunity to be able to dive in front of Brazil and the United States and it’s been an absolutely thrilling moment.”
His comments took me back to the days that Tina and I followed our son Ryan around the country and out of the country as he pursued his dream to become an Olympic diver. His dream ended at the 2012 Olympic Trials in Seattle, Washington.
Through out his seventeen-years of diving, he wore many national team uniforms for the Moss Farms Diving Tigers, winning a Men’s One-Meter National Title at age 17. He wore a uniform for the Colquitt County Packers, winning four consecutive one-meter state titles. He wore the bright orange for the University of Tennessee, winning two SEC Championships and many more accolades. Twice he wore uniforms for the United States National Team, winning a bronze medal in Puerto Rico on the three-meter board.
As a family we understand the pursuit of dreams, sacrifice, hard work, intense competition, and the identity a sport gives an athlete.
However, throughout Ryan’s diving career we taught him what Boudia shared in his interview about identity. I reminded him often, whether he was on the podium or not, “Diving is something you do. It’s not who you are.”
I knew that one day he’d no longer have an identity as a diver. I knew it could end any day with an injury. What would fill his life then? What values would guide him? What would motivate him? You can’t live life off a wall full of medals. We wanted his greatest passion to be Christ, not diving. However, that had to be his choice not ours.
Chasing dreams with our children to be the best soccer player, the best baseball player, the best at gymnastics, the best football player has its ups and downs. It can produce great memories, and tremendous life lessons. However, parents fail to prepare their athletes for the day they will hang up the jersey/uniform for the last time. Even for the tiny few that become professionals or Olympians, one day they will hang up the uniform.
We heard an honest confession from David Boudia who said that if his identity had to be defined by what he did at the pool, it would drive him crazy. Many become burned out on their sport before they ever finish school. What many people leave out of their pursuit of their dreams and goals is a relationship with Christ, which gives lasting meaning now and always.
After the 2008 Olympics left him feeling empty inside, Boudia went searching for what was missing in his life.
When Adam Soldati became David’s coach at Purdue University, through his friendship and mentoring, David came to know Christ in 2010. That led him to his most important trip through the waters, his baptism.
Passing through those waters gave him the identity he was looking for and needed, an identity described by The Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:27: “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” That’s the uniform we all can wear throughout life.
His synchro partner Steele Johnson echoed David’s words about having an identity in Christ following the silver medal performance. He said that kind of identity “gave me peace; it gave me ease; it helped me enjoy the contest. If something went great I was happy; if something didn’t go great I could still find joy…”
When we live and move and have our being in Christ (Acts 17:28), those are words we can live by every day.