Challenge SPORT

Love overwhelms US olympian

Kelly Clark
Kelly Clark of the United States competes during the Snowboard Ladies’ Halfpipe Final at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games on February 13, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Kelly Clark's rise in the world of snowboarding has made her a legend in the halfpipe. She has clocked up 70 competition wins, three Olympic medals (a gold and two bronze) and 10 X Games medals, nine of them gold. But although she literally soars to incredible heights in the snow, it took getting grounded in her beliefs for Kelly to really know herself.

At age 18, having been snowboarding since she was seven, Kelly won gold at the 2002 Olympics in Utah. Now, at the age of 34, the halfpipe specialist has taken part in an unprecedented five Olympics, just missing out on a medal in the women's halfpipe competition in PyeongChang in February.

But she says that in all her successes, she was looking for a sense of significance.

"I achieved the highest in my sport. I was famous," Kelly states. "I had money. I had an Olympic gold medal. I had everything that anyone could have wanted, but I found out that wasn't what I was looking for."

So she did what she thought would fill the void in her heart.

"I strived to drink the most. I strived to be the rowdiest ... all this silly stuff. It did not seem like a very good idea, but at the time that was what I thought was going to make me cool. I wanted people to like me."

Two years after her gold medal all she felt was a deep sense of emptiness.

"I had spiralled into this depression and into this place that was just really dark," Kelly says.

"I was at this contest, and I was staying by myself. I spent the morning writing about how I did not want to live anymore and how it would not even matter [if I died]."

However, later that day, Kelly was standing at the bottom of the pipe after her run when she overheard a conversation that would change everything.

"This girl comes down, and she's crying because she fell on both of her runs and she didn't qualify. This other girl goes up to her, and I'm standing there. They didn't know anybody was listening. This girl was like, 'Hey, it's all right. God still loves you.'

"I was blown away. If there is a God who loves me, I need to know Him!"

Those words sank deep into Kelly's soul. Outside of seeing the occasional "Jesus loves you" on a billboard or bumper sticker, she really did not know what this Christianity thing was all about – but she had a newfound desire to find out.

That same night, she dug a Bible out of her hotel room drawer and began to seek answers.

"As I started looking at the Bible, I realized that I didn't know where to look or where to start," she admits.

The girl whom she had overheard was staying in Kelly's hotel, and she found out what room number she was in. So that night, Kelly knocked on her door, saying, "I think you might be a Christian, and I think you need to tell me about God."

"She told me about having a relationship with Jesus and she started telling me that was what it was about. My Creator wanted a real relationship with me, and He loved me very much.

"At the same time I got a little nervous because I had never thought about God before a day in my life," Kelly confesses. "I had never once wondered why we are here, I had never thought about Him, never been to church, nothing. I had no grid for any of this.

"And so I spent the next four months thinking, 'Ok, God, if You're real, reveal Yourself to me.'"

At the end of the season Kelly realised a life without God was inconceivable.

Kelly Clark in Gangneung
Kelly Clark poses for a portrait on the Today Show Set in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo Marianna Massey/Getty Images)

"I asked myself a few questions like, 'Could I ever wake up another day and not think about God?' And the answer was 'no' because I was thinking about Him every day and He was real and in my life," she said. "'Could I ever run the other way and pretend He didn't exist?' That answer was also 'no.' And so I came to a conclusion and said, 'Alright, Jesus, come and live life with me.'

"I gave my heart to the Lord that day," she says. "It was pretty cool. The Lord [Jesus] really apprehended me at that point.

"That was a huge shifting point for me where my snowboarding became this amazing expression and fun thing, rather than this thing that I had to do. It became this thing that I was made to do and I could actually enjoy, and there was so much freedom in it because I wasn't doing it to prove to people who I was. Through my relationship with God I learned who I was, and was comfortable in who I was. But I'll tell you, I've never had more fun snowboarding, and I've never been more free."

Kelly demonstrates her commitment to Christ with a message printed on the top side of her snowboard: "Jesus, I cannot hide my love."

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