by Krissy Vargo
To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.
Can you guess who said this? Maybe a church father, a saint, or possibly a sports coach or a promising athlete? The beauty of this quote is that it can relate to anyone, a motto for a young adult enriching their faith or an athlete in training.
These words serve as a strong reminder of the very person we are called to be, not just how we perform on a sports field. This quote is by the international track star legend, Steve Prefontaine. Prefontaine knew what it took to win, and wanted it so badly that he never waited until the last lap to give it his all. Instead, he set his fast pace as soon as the race started, calling it a “pure guts race.” He set the American record for the 5,000 meter race and only had three defeats in his four years at the University of Oregon.
So what do sports and the spiritual life have in common? Here are some examples from my life that may help explain. I was born Catholic and received a Catholic education growing up. I always felt rooted in the faith but as the waters of temptation began to grow, my relationship with Christ and His Bride became a distant priority on my “to do” list. However, during this time, sports remained at the forefront of my attention. Soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball, and golf became my focus. God always meets us where he knows we can meet him, and in my case, this was in sports. I had no idea that the next pitch He was throwing was going to be a fast ball right down the middle.
“Your batting average last year was a .189, I want you to know your bat will not find you a spot on this team.” Coach Barber had been my high school softball coach the previous season and was a coach that demanded respect. The kind that makes you want to become the best player you could possibly be. When I heard these words in my year end evaluation I was crushed. There were going to be eleven seniors on next year’s varsity team and now my shot as a junior finding a spot diminished almost completely.
How similar this feeling can be when it comes to our faith. Especially those times we pray for something for so long and it seems to go unanswered. I had a moment like this when I moved to Indy about two years ago after much praying and discerning. I took a leap of faith, moved out here and began my new job. And then it happened, the silence. My prayer life was dry, I didn’t know anyone and I started to doubt God’s call. Similar to my coach’s evaluation, I felt as though everything I did up to that point had not mattered and God somehow left me behind.
God, as well as a good coach, has the ability to see what we cannot. The end of the year evaluation gave me the motivation to strive to be better. The solitude that God provided allowed me to spend more time in prayer and began making me into a different person. When an unexpected turn of events happens, we all have a choice. We can either throw in the towel or go all in.
Run so as to win.
This quote is from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 9:24). One of my favorite quotes regarding Paul comes from a good friend of mine, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “Only one who hates like a Saul could love like a Paul.” The guy had so much zeal for hating Christians that he would travel around the Roman empire just to persecute them. He would put them in chains and even stone them to death. But then Christ broke into his life in a very real and abrupt way. Paul was knocked off his horse and blinded. God instructed Paul, “Get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’”(Acts 9:6). Notice, God never asked him to stop feeling so strongly or to give up his passion. Instead, Paul used the very same zeal that was channeled toward hating Christians into a zeal that would be used to stop at nothing (even unto death) in order to complete the mission of building up Christ’s Church. Talk about knowing your mission and staying focused!
Some of us can relate to Paul’s zeal when it comes to something we love. Ultimately I saw my passion for sports culminate into the passion I now have for the faith. I used to stay late after practice in the batting cage, hit groundballs to teammates and placed the words, “I love batting” on my bathroom mirror. The next year I made my way into the lineup. My coach pointed out my weak spot, which showed me where I needed to grow. I now see that this same passion inside me has helped me persevere in my faith life. God has never asked me to stop being so enthusiastic or passionate. He just found time for me to grow in solitude, allowing me to live with a purpose, to run so as to win the race.
Since I moved to Indy, I have seen the two worlds of sports and the spiritual life collide. First, in my involvement with IndyCatholic Intramurals and also with volunteering as a coach for my home parish, Little Flower. I would have never guessed that those first few lonely months when I made the move out here could have led to the people I now know and the spiritual growth that is taking place. I can understand a little better now what Isaiah was prophesizing when he said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD,” (Isaiah 55:8) and I’ll continue to keep my eye on the ball ready to swing at whatever He has coming next.
Both Steve and St. Paul chose to live lives that inspired others to rethink how they were training or living. They both had purpose and a mission. “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” We are called to be athletes for the Faith, to live with a purpose and to love others in a way that leads them to Christ. We must accept the gift first and then become it for others. With God as our Coach we know we can “run the race so as to win” so that in the end, we will be with our whole team, the saints, the church triumphant, and the Ultimate Coach for eternity.
Krissy Vargo is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and continues to be a hardcore fan of the Wildcats. Her passion and zeal for the faith and sports really shines as she volunteers as a leader for the IndyCatholic Intramurals young adult community in Indy. She is also one of the founders and hosts of the podcast, “Coffee and Catechesis” and loves sharing and talking about her faith. www.coffeeandcatechesis.com Krissy belongs to Little Flower parish on the east side of Indianapolis where she can often be found in the adoration chapel or coaching girls kickball. 🙂
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