In Russian, we call cross country the ‘Horse sport. We trained three times per day, doing up to 1000 kilometre per month and perhaps 8-10000 k in a year — sometimes 60k in one training run!
There are great pressures in this sport, especially in the Olympics. The expectations of your team and country and your own expectations, the coach is under pressure and passes that pressure on to athlete. If your race does not go well everything seems to collapse and you don’t know how to deal with it. As a Christ-follower if I knew I had done all the preparation I could then I was able just to leave the rest to God.
In school, we were taught that the Bible was myths and legends. I thought the only people who believed in a God were old people. Even the graves had communist stars on them not crosses.”
Once I visited another skier and saw that she had a Bible. That was so strange for me as I had never seen a Bible before. I had been taught in school that the Bible was myths and legends. I was surprised that my friend did not know that the Bible was nonsense. She offered to lend a Bible to me. I said ‘No it is not for me.’
But as I got to know her she invited me to a Bible study. I was surprised by how many people there as I thought Christ-followers were just old ladies. I did not expect to see any young people and was amazed at the range of people at the meeting. I decided I needed to find out why all these people were so interested in this Bible. I started to read the Bible and it was such a revelation to me. Rather than myths and legends as I knew it was real history about a real God.
As I read it, God spoke to me through the Bible and gradually my interests and priorities changed. At first, it was very difficult as there were no other followers of Christ on the team and I did not know how to deal with sport, but gradually God showed me. At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan Katya met other Christ-following athletes and sport chaplains. I found the very idea of Christ-centered ministers in a sports event very strange. I understood for the first time that I could use my sport ability together with my faith. In a real sense, I found myself there.
Four years later I was a chaplain at the 2002 Turin Olympics. While there, I said to my team, ‘I am there for you — to talk, to listen, to help, to be with you and even to pray for you. I know the stresses you feel because I have been there.
Jesus changed my life completely. I don’t know where I would be if it had not happened. I cannot imagine life without God. My life is richer, brighter and has a different quality. I never regretted not for a single moment my decision to follow Jesus.
—Katya Antonuk, Russian cross country skier