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Power To Win
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It would make perfect sense if Carlos Beltran were just a little uncomfortable in New York. Actually, it's strange that he's not. To most, playing under the microscope in New York would sound like a lot of pressure. But Beltran, who accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior 4 years ago, feels peace. While it appears to outsiders that the 27-year-old may be in over his head, he feels that he is in the center of God's will. "I get that question every day, and I really don't feel any pressure at all," Beltran says. "I know that since God led me here, to New York, that I must be prepared to handle it and to do well here. I know that I am prepared."
Beltran meditates on his favorite verse-Philippians 4:13-every time he steps on the field. He says it's the truths found in that verse that give him the ability to do whatever God's will is, both on and off the field. "Every time I take the field, I tell Him, 'I'm doing this in Your name.' When I want to accomplish things I feel like I can. But it's not for myself, but for Him and His glory," he says.
The roots of faith run deep for Carlos Zambrano -- back to his childhood in his native Puerto Cabello, a coastal city west of Venezuela's capital, Caracas. He credits his dad mostly for raising him right. "He always showed me the right thing (to do). He put me in the church," he says.
Though Zambrano's life has not always been as glamorous as it is now, he remembers his childhood fondly. "Sometimes we didn't have food to eat growing up. I had just one pair of shoes and one pair of jeans." But still he says, "I give thanks to God for everything He has given me."
Zambrano has a natural gift for baseball that has moved him up quickly in the sport. "It's very hard," says Zambrano, "especially as a Christian. Sundays I can't go to church because we're playing. I have to work twice a hard to be where God wants me to be." But that's exactly what he does.
He came from humble beginnings. He's made it big. He's a fantastic pitcher. He wins fans. Others take issue with his passionate and emotional nature. Through it all, Zambrano is a Christian who loves the Lord. "Without Jesus, I can do nothing," he says.
Although Carson Palmer, first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, is aware of how sports success breeds headlines, the idea of "fame" is a bit foreign to him.
"I still don't consider myself to be famous," he says. "You've just gotta be yourself. I may be better than some guy at throwing a football, but he may be better at figuring out a lawsuit or doing taxes."
Nevertheless, the stats and awards the 6' 5" 230-pound signal-caller has accumulated make a great case for his fame. The fifth player in USC history to win the Heisman Trophy, Palmer rewrote the Trojans' record books. He set numerous career marks at USC, including most total offense yards (11,799, also a Pac-10 record).
Although Palmer has not always enjoyed "fame," he has enjoyed a relationship with Christ since he was a kid. "I've been a Christian as long as I can remember. I've always been in church with my family through high school and college."
Carson Palmer seems to understand the daily challenges and responsibilities that come with carrying the name of Christ in such a high-profile profession. Although he cannot predict what those challenges might be, he has an assurance that God has a master plan for his life.
He may be breaking out some freestyle rap in the locker room or banging helmets with teammates as he talks seriously to them. Either way, people respond well to Chad Pennington. He's become a leader.
But his professional career did not start out exactly as he'd envisioned. His adjustment to the pros from college football at Marshall was a slow one. Pennington stood on the sidelines watching others taking off...but he wasn't ready to fly.
"The Lord puts you in situations that might be tough...that test your patience, your self-confidence, you as a person," says Pennington. He was able to look at his circumstances from a spiritual perspective because of a relationship with Christ that started in grade school. His father Elwood says, "The greatest gift I could give my kids was to introduce them to Jesus Christ."
Pennington now leads not only on the field but in his Christian walk by practicing what he's preaching. He tries to be selfless, just as Christ was. If possible, he'd spend hours sitting at the apostle Paul's feet, soaking up his teachings. He strives to live by Philippians 1:21.
At one time, Chad Pennington wasn't ready to fly; now God has given him wings to soar.
On the night before the draft, while many other NBA hopefuls are attending pre-draft parties or taking in the sights of New York City, Chris Kaman is quite comfortable in his hotel room. There's nobody around to remind Kaman that tomorrow will be the biggest day of his life. Maybe that's why he looks so relaxed.
"I just trust God a lot," he says. "God knows what's gonna happen, I really don't. But there's a plan for everything, and I'll find out what it is."
It's draft night, and finally NBA commissioner David Stern approaches the podium. "With the sixth pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Clippers select Chris Kaman from Central Michigan University."
After the draft, Kaman and his friends and family celebrate at Gallagher's Steakhouse. The reality is starting to sink in.
"He's not a quitter," says his high school coach, Mark Keeler, the 1999 Michigan Class D (small school) Coach of the Year. "Never has been, never will be. If someone steps on him one night, he'll be working hard on improving his game the next day."
But Kaman hasn't even thought that far ahead: "Man, I'm playing in the NBA. That's crazy."
Ask Chris Paul about his first year as an NBA player and he just smiles, shakes his head slowly, and says softly, "Unbelievable." Who could disagree? Paul was a near-unanimous choice as the NBA Rookie of the Year as he led the 2005-2006 rookie class in scoring, assists, steals, and minutes played.
Adjusting to the level of basketball and the new lifestyle in the NBA is difficult. Paul, however, is grateful for the way he was raised. "I am so thankful that my parents raised me and C.J. (Paul's brother) to depend on God's guidance and our faith in Him, and to always be thankful for what we receive."
Paul is very interested in a future that involves "giving back" to his hometown. Among other acts of charity, Paul has plans to fund a scholarship to Wake Forest for an area student each year.
Paul maintains a steadiness and focus all his own. "As I went through the past year, I just kept trying to have fun, knowing that I was playing basketball at the highest level, and remain humble, keeping in mind that all this could be taken away from me as fast as it was happening," he says.
Chris Paul, Wayne Simien, and Shanna Zolman have something in common-something besides being among the best players in the land.
Wake Forest's Chris Paul is a point guard extraordinaire. For the nationally ranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons, he is unquestionably the man who controls the action. In his personal life, however, Paul is quick to admit that he is not in control, and that he seeks assistance elsewhere. "I have been blessed so much and this is all God's doing." Paul says.
Callers trying to reach Wayne Simien on his cell phone may be surprised by the voicemail they receive if the Kansas All-American doesn't answer. Before you can leave Simien a message, he likes to leave you one, such as Galatians 2:20. "It's just one way I have of allowing God to use me as a vessel for spreading His Word to others," Simien explains.
Shanna Zolman knows there is a reason that she became a Lady Vol at the University of Tennessee, and that reason, she says, is because God had something in mind for her there. "There's no question that God put me at Tennessee and that He put me here for a purpose," she says without hesitation.
On September 10, 2001 was the eve of one of the darkest days in American history. That same day, the sound of a judge's gavel was music to Christian Hosoi's ears as he was granted mercy he never expected. But while serving a sentence for possession of illegal drugs, Hosoi was about to learn about God's true mercy.
As a teen, Hosoi began an upward climb professionally but a downward spiral personally. While he helped pave the way for skateboarding to become huge on the sports scene in America, he also began to partake in the normalcy of the profession-drugs and alcohol. That addiction is why he eventually found himself running from the law and later in prison. But during that time, Hosoi found his chance to seek God.
Nicknamed "Christ" for much of his life, it wasn't until that time in prison that Hosoi met the true Christ. He's grateful for that. Without it he says, "I don't think I would have surrendered all my junk over to Him."
Now, Hosoi's mission is sure. He's committed to his wife and family; he's committed to skateboarding. But mostly, he wants to reach "everyone from the young...to the old...for Christ."
Music to God's ears.
After the 2006 Torino Olympics, speedskater Cindy Klassen has a gold medal around her neck. But the true golden treasure that Klassen carries around is in her heart. She has a family of faith made up of relatives and friends who have encouraged her in her sport and her relationship with Christ. Her childhood Sunday school teacher remembers Klassen being an active seven-year-old, a shy girl with blue ribbons in her hair. Then, she had a demeanor of humility and gentleness.
Now, on the other side of winning five Olympic medals, a world title, two world records, and the title Canadian Athlete of the Year for 2006, nothing has changed in Klassen. Admittedly, she's overwhelmed by all the accolades and attention, but she doesn't let anything change who she is. "I have to take every moment to use my gifts to [God's] glory," she says.
"Tomorrow anything could happen, and my career could be over," she admits, thinking of the serious arm injury in 2003 that could have ended her speedskating and her life. But with the prayers of loved ones and her own faith, no matter what happens she can confidently say, "I know that God is in control."
As the current quarterbacks for the last two national championship teams, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow have taken center stage in two of the most intensely scrutinized college football programs in America. Even as sophomores, this concept is not lost on McCoy and Tebow. They know they are being watched. They also know that with the immediate access they have to so many people, the opportunities to be a model and a spokesperson for Jesus Christ are preeminent. "In some places it's not the cool thing to do or the popular thing to be and God is not No. 1," says McCoy.
Tebow and McCoy were both hatched from close-knit, deeply Christian upbringings that saw them come to faith at an early age. Tim Tebow's father, Bob Tebow, heads the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association, which claims to be the conduit of close to 9 million people coming to faith in Christ in the last 8 years.
An NFL career is a goal for both of these young quarterbacks, but they are realistic enough to know there are no guarantees. McCoy looks forward to what God has in store. "God willing, I'd like to be in the NFL, but the important thing to do is His will."
Corey Simon hasn't always had it easy. He knows what it's like to lose. He lost a relationship with his father when he was a toddler, three NFC Championships in a row with the Philadelphia Eagles, and a quality of his health to polyarthritis.
But there's one thing he's won, despite all the hardships in life, and that is a relationship with God. To Simon, Jesus is not a good-luck charm. He is his Lord and Savior, and he's trusting Him with every step in his life.
It wasn't until his junior year at FSU that two of Simon's teammates, Andre Wadsworth and Peter Boulware, shared what it means to be a true disciple of Christ. Since then, he's finding that God is faithful to His Word, and that no one, no thing, no loss, can take away that joy that's his in Christ.
Now, through the successes in life, Simon can thank God. He has accomplished much on the football field. He has a loving wife and son. He has a mother who has always supported him. And he now has a relationship with his father.
"God has brought me to this point," Simon says. "I know that with Him, I can't lose."
After Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling became the winning pitcher in game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, he was asked how he was able to persevere through excruciating pain he was experiencing in his right ankle. "It's all right," the Boston ace said. "I became a Christian 7 years ago, and I have never in my life been touched by God like I was tonight. I tried to go out and do it myself in Game 1, and you saw what happened. Tonight was God's work, no question."
Here's a quick recap of baseball's 2004 postseason. In the ALCS against the Yankees, Boston became the first team in baseball history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the postseason. Then, Boston swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to win the team's first World Series title since 1918.
The Red Sox had a core of six guys who met regularly for Bible study. And Walt Day, the team chapel leader, believes that the core of Christians had an influence on their teammates. "We were getting about 15 guys in the chapel, so a majority of the guys were coming. I think some of the spiritual unity overflowed into the unity of the team."