My three Olympic gold medals lie banged up in a bank safety-deposit box down the street from my house. Some Olympians carefully handle their medals – leery that they might be mishandled and damaged.
After speaking about my 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic experiences, I let kids hold them and take pictures wearing them. So the medals are hacked up and scratched. But I don't care.
God changed how I view athletic success.
When I started playing softball at the University of Arizona in 1995, I met Julie Reitan. My teammate's love for Jesus was vibrant. And so obvious. Before games she would gather the team together to pray. Julie invited me to a Bible study sponsored by Athletes in Action, Cru's outreach to athletes.
At that Bible study, AIA staff member Doug Gotcher explained how I could know God personally. Though I had invited Jesus into my life as a child, my faith was shallow. Doug opened my eyes to see that I didn't know the first thing about the Bible.
Through Julie's example and Doug's teaching, I committed my life to Christ. In 1997, I prayed, God, I want to learn to play softball for You; I want to give everything to You.
For example, the thought of praying publicly at a softball game – as Julie had often modeled – once petrified me. But after winning the 1997 College Softball World Series, I shouted, "Wait, guys."
I gathered some players at home plate and prayed ... out loud. The prayer was a significant step for me. It was my first time to be bold as an athlete who loves Jesus. Unfortunately, Julie didn't see me pray publicly again.
A few months later she suddenly died in her sleep. At age 21, a diabetic coma took her life. A teammate at Arizona called to tell me the news while I was traveling with the national team.
Earlier that summer I had participated in an AIA camp where I learned more about evangelism. I had wondered, Will I have the courage to talk to my teammates about Christ, or will they think I'm crazy? But after Julie's death I didn't want to die without my teammates knowing the most important thing in my life: Christ.
Endorsements, national championships and gold medals ultimately don't matter. They won't last for eternity. My relationship with God and my family are most important, then softball.
I don't care if my Olympic medals get banged up. They are just pieces of metal.
Leah O'Brien-Amico has a bat named after her: the Worth Leah O'Brien-Amico Fast Pitch Softball bat.
If you are reading this and for some reason you hate God, and you feel alone, know that He is constantly loving you. He will turn the situation around. Therefore, choose God as He chooses you.
It could be said that I grew up in the church, however, my heart was not entirely in it.
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