Faith, Family, Track and Field

To become an Olympic champion, Bryan Clay had to commit to being a man of God.

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Posted in , Jun 6, 2012

Bryan Clay

Six days a week, seven hours a day, running, weightlifting, core exercises, plyometrics. Defending Olympic decathlon champion Bryan Clay’s workout regimen is intense. You don’t earn the title of world’s greatest athlete any other way.

The most important part of his training, though, is spiritual. “I have to keep my priorities in order—faith first, family second, track third,” Bryan says.

He wasn’t always so spiritually focused. His parents’ divorce when he was in fifth grade hit him hard. He acted out, getting into fights. Later on it was drinking and drugs. His mom kept praying for him, telling him, “God has big plans for you.”

She took him to a counselor, who suggested he channel his aggression into sports. Fast and strong, he chose track and field. He was so incredibly versatile that he’d compete in six events in a single meet.

No wonder Azusa Pacific University recruited him as a decathlete. His mom was thrilled, thinking that at a Christian college, he’d be on the right path.

Not quite. Bryan was more into partying than praying. He’d blow off chapel because he was hungover. His coach threatened to kick him off the track team. Bryan’s attitude was, “So what if I get tossed? I don’t care.”

He didn’t care enough about his girlfriend, Sarah, either. Sophomore year she broke up with him, fed up with his carousing. Desperate, he prayed that she’d call him again. One day she did. “Are we going to get back together?” he pleaded.

“That’s not going to happen until you become the man of God I know you want to be and that I know he wants you to be,” she said.

That night he took a hard look at himself. What did he have to offer except that he was an athlete? Not even a really good one—he was 1,000 points away from a national-level decathlon score.

But how did one go about becoming a man of God? He was as confused as ever and Sarah wasn’t coming back.

Finally Bryan sought answers in Scripture. He grew intrigued by Jesus’ disciples. They learned by watching him day after day.

“If I was going to change,” he says, “I needed a real-life model, someone who was doing his best to be Christlike in everyday life.” The choice of a mentor was clear: Azusa’s dean of students.

The dean invited him to join a small discipleship group that met every week. It would take total commitment, the dean warned. There was no missing D-group, not even for track practice and certainly not for a hangover.

They talked about everything—classes, work, relationships, putting love for God and for others before yourself. “I didn’t just commit, I surrendered to Christ,” Bryan says.

His track career took off. Junior year, 2001, he qualified for the world cham pionships. Three years later he won the silver medal in the Athens Olympics. In Beijing in 2008, he won gold. By then, he had won Sarah’s heart too, and married her.

This summer Bryan attempted the unprecedented—medaling in decathlon in three Olympics. During the U.S. Olympic Trials, he caught a foot while competing in the hurdles, costing him a spot on the team. Perhaps in four years, when he'll be 36, he'll try again.

No matter the outcome, there is one constant, as he recently posted on Twitter: “In happy moments, praise God. In the difficult moments, seek God. In the quiet moments, trust God. In every moment, thank God.”

Read more inspiring Olympic profiles.

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