As a kid, I believed that God existed but I didn’t really think very much about the idea. I was more focused on my gymnastics. I’ve been a gymnast since the age of 5. Over the years, I worked my way up to county squad, and then joined the national squad at the age of 12. My lifestyle was disciplined and the gym became my second home. I trained before and after school, eventually doing so for around 30 hours a week. I was very committed! My family were churchgoers, but I didn’t really see how God, Jesus and all the Bible stories were relevant, it seemed as though all my friends were getting on fine without faith.
In 2006 I had a good year and went to the Junior Europeans and the World Championships. But then things started to go a bit wrong. I was constantly getting injured. And people say sport is good for you! I missed out on some major competitions and my relationship with my coach became difficult. I started to do stupid things on nights out to get attention and to feel a part of the group. I’ve always been quiet and fairly shy. Drinking seemed to give me confidence that I’ve never really had before and it allowed me to forget about the gymnastics career that was getting me down. I was going out more and more, and I wasn’t acting like a professional gymnast.
I realised that I wasn’t getting anywhere and something had to change. Then, in 2009, I heard a talk given by an ex-pro sportsman. It turned out that his story was extremely similar to mine, and God helped him. I felt like God had drawn me there to hear this talk, and it really affected me. For the first time in my life it all made sense. During that service I said a prayer and made a commitment to follow Jesus.
The first year of being a Christian wasn’t easy but some great things happened to me. I competed in the European championships where the Great Britain team finished 2nd, I became the English and British champion, and I was ranked 9th in the world. With the 2012 Olympics approaching, I started extra training with the hope of gaining an edge, but I over-trained and burnt myself out. My performance level dropped, and I was injured and sick. I just missed out on the Olympics, which was hard, but not as hard as it would have been if gymnastics was all I lived for.
There have been so many times when I’ve been worried before and during competitions whether it is with injuries or something else. It seemed as though there would be no way of getting round the problem. In competitions, win or lose, I have been able to compete using the gift God has given me, and yet even though I still love gymnastics, it doesn’t have an all-consuming power over me.
Sam Hunter is a gymnastics coach, and helps young gymnasts around the UK to reach their potential.
Photo credit: wili_hybrid (Creative Commons)