Using God for luck

  • by Rich Atkinson
Photos courtesy Jim Goodrich.

As a two-time, All-American wrestler at the University of Iowa, Nathan Burak knows intense training. Workouts are designed to build mental toughness along with physical conditioning that pushes past the comfort zone. Nathan knows what it takes to be a champion.

“Iowa conditioning training will test your mind and whether you will break or not,” says Nathan. Wrestling training may include time and distance cardio workouts on the stationary bikes, carrying a teammate uphill during a run, and weightlifting.

“We build National Championships one workout at a time!” is posted on the Hawkeye Wrestling twitter account. It takes hard work to be a champion. With 23 National Championships and numerous conference tournament championships, the University of Iowa Wrestling team lives out their motto by making their workouts count.

Nathan wasn’t that interested in wrestling as a child, but as he became a better wrestler through practice, he liked it more. And when he became focused in his faith in Christ, he started growing. He trusted in Christ when he was a child after one of his older brothers led him to Christ. But he didn’t live it out very well. During middle school, he remembers hearing a sermon on the radio about “sin finding you out.” He confessed his sin to his parents.

“That’s when I started getting more serious about my faith. Yet with athletics I would use God as a lucky rabbit’s foot, like if I am reading the Bible a lot and doing the right things then, I should be winning. Then, if I lost I would usually be mad at Him. I thought I was doing the right things,” he says.

Now, Nathan has shifted his focus from entitlement to worship and encouraging others. He wants to his life to count for Christ. It’s his second year as a member of Athletes In Action’s student-leadership team. Last Fall the AIA weekly meeting averaged 35 to 50 students. According to Jim Goodrich the AIA Director at Iowa.

“They experienced the largest number ever of student-athletes attending AIA’s weekly meeting.” Sports represented included football, basketball, wrestling, track, volleyball, rowing, soccer, field hockey, gymnastics, golf and tennis. Athletes like Nathan are encouraged to live out 2 Timothy 2:2 by training up others to faithfully follow Jesus.

Last May, Nathan, his brother and two women on the volleyball team trekked to Minnesota and joined about 135 others for the AIA Ultimate Training Camp (UTC).

The UTC website describes the camp this way: “It is a high intensity sports camp for college and pro athletes. We tackle the issue of how to blend faith and sport together on the field of competition. We teach athletes five Biblical Principles and then allow them to test those truths in a 20-hour sports marathon known as The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Our goal is to help every athlete in every nation understand how the gospel impacts their sport and life.”

This year AIA has added camps for high school and inner city athletes.

During the school year, Nathan met with Michael Hart, who is a student-athlete on the Track/Cross Country team. “Nathan is the number one person who has helped me grow in my faith here on campus,” says Michael. “Meeting weekly is a huge help to me by holding me accountable and getting me into the Bible a lot more.”

By attending UTC and being a student-leader, Nathan is growing and training to be a spiritual champion.

“Now, I’m wrestling more so to glorify God,” says Nathan. “Not to use God and glorify me in my wrestling.”