The gold-medal athlete shares how finding faith helped him gain perspective on life and his sport.
Posted in , Aug 1, 2016
As I stood on the 10-meter platform in Beijing in 2008, preparing for my final dive in the aqua, Water Cube, I wanted to savor the moment. This was the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment for hundreds of athletes like me who had sweated, pushed, lifted, trained, sacrificed, and willed their way to the Olympics.
My Olympic journey had been an all-consuming passion and obsession since I was 7 years old. That was the start of my pursuit of the American dream – my belief that I could achieve riches, fame, and success. For me, the Olympics were my vehicle of choice to get the goods. The desire accelerated over time. Once I made the Olympics, that was no longer enough. I wanted to win a medal. Then winning a medal wasn’t enough. I wanted to win gold.
With a singular focus that never wavered, I pursued this dream of Olympic glory not for some noble purpose but because of what I thought it could deliver. A gold medal would mean fame and adoration. A gold medal would mean success. It would mean acceptance. It would mean happiness and joy.
So, relentlessly and doggedly, that’s what I chased. And the harder I pressed and the closer I got to that goal, the more miserable life became. Every time I thought I had almost achieved the goal, suddenly a new one took its place. No matter what I accomplished and no matter how happy I should have been, fulfillment always seemed just beyond my grasp.
I failed miserably in those 2008 Olympics. I didn’t get the medal that I so desperately wanted, and that failure plunged me into a downward spiral of hopelessness and despair. My god had betrayed me. The one I had served for so long, the one I had worked for and sacrificed for, the one whose approval I so desperately sought, the one I was willing to do anything to appease – it had toyed with me and promised me something that it didn’t deliver. It had beaten me down and crushed me in return for all I had given.
Never in my life had I been so distraught. My whole purpose of pleasing myself had proven hollow, and the remnants and tatters of the ensuing destruction littered my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but my purpose needed to be redirected and redeemed. I needed to be redirected and redeemed.
My success in diving had led to me Purdue University and the coaching of Adam Soldati. When I was nearly suicidal and completely fed up with the emptiness of life, a diving teammate suggested that I talk to Adam about what I was going through. His wife Kimiko had been an Olympic diver, so when they invited me over to their house, I expected they would discuss what I was experiencing post-Olympics. I hoped they would tell me that I was normal, that every Olympic athlete went through similar struggles.
But Adam and Kimiko didn’t tell me that. They told me something far better – something I was not expecting.
They explained to me that the loneliness and despair I was feeling was a result of misplaced hope. My pursuit of joy, satisfaction and wholeness was a good thing, they said – a drive that was given to me by God. But I was looking for those things in the wrong places.
Ultimately, Adam and Kimiko pointed me to Jesus. That Sunday night conversation was the beginning of my path to becoming a Christian.
When I made the Olympic team again in 2012, Jesus had totally changed my desires, thoughts and attitudes toward the games. I no longer saw them as a platform for myself – as a vehicle for me to get all that I wanted in the world. Now my outlook was transformed and redeemed. I saw the Olympics as an opportunity to display God’s love to people who might be lost and broken, just like I had been.
That’s the mindset that I will carry with me when I head to Rio for the 2016 Olympics. Yes, I hope to repeat as a gold medalist. But the important thing is to remember that my identity is not wrapped up in my success as a diver. Instead, my value and worth rests in my faith.
For much of my life, my heart was consumed with the earthly treasures that did not and could not satisfy the deepest longings of my soul. The ultimate satisfaction and joy in life is much greater than gold: it’s found in those treasures in Christ that last forever.
David Boudia is one of the best divers in the world. A two-time Olympic medalist––gold and bronze in London 2012––and winner of 16 national titles, Boudia will compete in his third Olympic Games in Rio this year. His new book, Greater Than Gold, shares his breathtaking story of salvation, struggle, and hope.