Aspen X Games provide born-again snowboarders chance to shine
In a sports world where believing in yourself is an essential tool — you need that kind of faith before you can hit a three-rotation 1080 on a snowboard — the notion of believing in something bigger can be difficult to fathom.
But a swelling corps of Jesus fans is making itself known in the inherently hedonistic world of extreme sports.
At this year’s Aspen X Games, born-again Christians sport Jesus stickers on their rides. They eschew the party scene that saddles just about all the action. They wade through the excesses, living a chaste life while pushing the boundaries of their sport, hoping their lifestyle inspires others.
“Snowboarding can only take you so far,” says Tommy Czeschin, a 12-year pro boarder on the U.S. Snowboarding Team and new father from Mammoth Lakes, Calif. “You can win lots of events but still be empty inside.”
It is not just born-again Christians who are bringing a new spirituality to the X Games. As this event matures, so do its participants.
Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter grew up visiting a local friary in Vermont. It was there, hanging with the monks, that she learned her own form of faith.
“I just express it with meditation, yoga and candles,” says Teter, who earned Olympic gold in Turin’s 2006 Winter Games.
But the traditional Christian athletes are the most visible.
Four years ago, Daniel “Floyd” Ralph founded the country’s first Snowboarders For Christ group in Breckenridge. Several of the extreme sports’ biggest names have joined the fold.
“It’s a hard culture to minister in,” Ralph said.
“It is a selfish sport, all about you and what tricks you can do and how you can get to the top. … And it doesn’t have to be.
“There is a huge revival happening in snowboarding right now with the Christian riders stepping out,” he said.
Most notable among them is Kelly Clark, who came to her newfound spirituality at the top of her game.
As she tells it, she was the best snowboarder in the world. A gold medal from the 2002 Winter Olympics adorned her neck. Sponsors were calling.
But something was missing. She tried to fill the hole with partying, acting out, more snowboarding. Still she felt “hollow.”
Then she overheard a fellow competitor say something to comfort another rider who had just posted a disappointing performance.
“Don’t worry about it. God still loves you,” Clark heard the competitor say.
Four years later, Clark is still the queen of snowboarding, a medal-harvesting pipe rider whose talents send her flying higher than any other woman in the sport.
But, she said, she rediscovered snowboarding after she began her relationship with God.
“It’s just more joyful,” she said.