When I was seven years old, my family moved from Ohio to Guatemala to be full-time missionaries. The first three years in the mission field we spent serving Mayan people in remote villages in the heart of Guatemala. In that missionary school, my love for competitive sports started to develop. My dad, being a very active athlete in his 20’s, practiced track and field, the decathlon, and the modern pentathlon.
When I was 13 years old my dad took me to the Guatemalan Modern Pentathlon Federation where I was introduced to the sport for the first time. Having grown up in a Christ-centered family as a missionary kid, surrounded by sports, this was a perfect opportunity and platform to see the possibilities and chances of being able to practice this multi-discipline sport. The modern pentathlon consists of five disciplines: Running, swimming, fencing, shooting, and equestrian show jumping. In 2010, I competed in my first national competition in Guatemala and that is where I begin my journey towards becoming an Olympic athlete. It wasn’t until after the London Olympics 2012 that I really took the sport with a serious mentality towards becoming a professional.
Little by little the sacrifices became bigger, the discipline became more demanding, and the chase for excellence became more intense. It wasn’t till the Pan-American Games Toronto, Canada 2015 where I made a name for myself becoming the youngest athlete to ever win a gold in the modern pentathlon event and qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. Ever since that moment, my faith, my life, and my actions would reflect in front of the eyes of a whole nation.
I ask God to give me strength every single day. Being able to have the mental and physical strength to train five sports every single day is a very challenging task to do. I know for a fact that without the renewal of my strength through my faith and because of God I would not be the athlete that I am today.
I remember one time while training for the Olympics when my coach asked me to do a swimming set within a specific amount of time. With tears in my eyes, knowing that I would probably not be able to complete the swimming set and just thinking about how much I was already hurting from all the training before that set, I prayed to God for strength and asked him to give me the energy and focus to complete this swim set. Not only had I made all the times that were asked, but I also overachieved and swam times that I have never done before. At that moment I knew that it was all God. It has not only been that moment where God showed up but in all the competitions that I have won knowing I won because of the strength that He gave me.
I believe the ups and downs in a competition test your character and your faith in God — for the good moments and bad. Your positive mentality throughout a competition no matter what happens is what ultimately shapes your character and determines the outcomes of future results and solutions in life. Being able to be in situations where you have no strength and no motivation humbles you in ways that you could never imagine. Being able to acknowledge when you need help and guidance is the ultimate indicator to show you that you need Christ in every single moment.
Having a personal relationship with Christ is not something religious but genuine and real in each’s own individual way. A relationship with Christ is not something to compare with other relationships with God, but make it your own in a beautiful way where it is only you and God. This is why it’s called a personal relationship and not just a religious experience. God is not a God who looks for the best of the best, but someone who looks for the broken-hearted in need of a savior, regardless of your sins and faults.
My faith in God has always been surrounded by the love and grace He has shown to His children even though we don’t deserve it. My purpose in life has been to always reflect the love that Christ gave us and serve others selflessly. Being an example of Christ’s love on earth through actions has helped me use the platform that I have to inspire others and be a positive change to my country and the people around me.
The example that Jesus sent on earth when he came to serve others is the same model and example that I want to live my life as an athlete. That being said, the difference is about how you treat others, how you look at adversity, and how you respond to everything that happens around you. This allows me to live a happy life as an athlete knowing that it is not about what you do inside sport but how are you doing it that matters.
—Charles Fernandez, Guatemalan pentathlete