I was an 18-year-old Olympic gold medalist, X-Games champ and U.S. Open champ. I had achieved everything I had hoped to, and honestly, I just didn’t find the purpose and fulfillment I thought would come through accomplishments. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I didn’t have a Christian background, and honestly, I had never thought about why we might be on planet Earth, but I knew that something was missing.
I was going through the motions with my snowboarding and it was going really well. But in between the years 2002 (after I won the Olympic gold medal) and 2004, I slid into depression without really knowing it.
It was my first event of the 2004-05 season and I was standing at the bottom of the pipe, having just made finals. A girl had just come down, having not passed qualifiers, and she was crying. I overheard a conversation between her and her friend, who was just trying to get her to smile. Her friend said, “Hey, it’s all right. You know God still loves you.”
They didn’t know I heard that comment but it stirred something in me I couldn’t ignore. I thought, “If God loves her, maybe God loves me.” Then I thought, “There’s got to be Bibles in hotel rooms right?” I rushed back to my room and found a King James Bible, but I didn’t even know where to start. That girl was staying at my hotel so I knocked on her door. Here I am, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, knocking on her door and I said, “Hey, my name’s Kelly and I think you might be a Christian, and I think you need to tell me about God.”
I knocked on the right door that day. I thought Christianity was about going to church and saying the right things and following the rules, but she told me it wasn’t about being religious, it was about having a relationship with Jesus. That started me on a journey of finding a sense of significance and purpose outside of performance.
As a professional snowboarder, people assume we’re risk-takers, but we’re calculated risk-takers. I wasn’t about to jump into something I had just heard about for the first time. So I started trying to wrap my head around who God was. My conditioning coach at the time, who is a believer, gave me a devotional Bible, which proved really helpful for me to start relating my life to the Bible and understanding what it’s all about.
At the end of that snowboard season someone asked me if I was “saved” and I didn’t even know what that meant! As they explained it to me, I asked myself two questions: “Could I ever wake up another day and not think about God?” “Could I ever pretend He doesn’t exist?” The answer to both was no. So I said, “All right, Jesus, I’m in! I don’t know what this looks like, but I’m in!”
It was really liberating. I had my identity wrapped up in what I do; my sense of purpose and significance was gained through performance. It was a very volatile and insecure place to be. But suddenly, I had my snowboarding back. I didn’t have to do it to prove to myself or other people who I was. Having a sense of purpose, I was free to do what I love and actually enjoy it.
— Kelly Clark, professional snowboarder