Mennonite Olympian has a heart of gold
An interview with speed skating champion Cindy Klassen, now featured on coinby Ingrid Koss
In January 2006, I spoke with speed skater Cindy Klassen, who had grown up in my neighborhood and church. As we talked on the phone, I was struck by her gentleness, humility about her accomplishments and goals, genuine kindness toward others, and complete lack of antagonistic ambition. She quoted Psalm 16:8: "I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken."
I could see that the words she spoke about putting God first in her life and then trusting him with everything were not just church-speak; they genuinely came from the core of her being.
"I don't have to worry about anything because it's all in God’s hands," Klassen said.
I made the mistake of assuming that a person so meek could only achieve so much.
A few weeks later, I, along with the rest of Canada, found myself cheering and leaping, laughing and crying in front of the TV screen as this remarkable young woman won medal after medal in speed skating—five in all—at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
When I watched her cross the finish line ahead of Germany's Anni Friesinger to win the gold medal in the 1,500-meter speed skating race, I screamed until I fainted. I remembered this young woman had also said, "Well, I guess I am pretty competitive."
Klassen, whose name and face achieved instant international recognition at the Turin Olympics, proved just how much a person so meek can achieve. She went on from Turin to win the World Cup title in 3,000-meter speed skating and became the all-round world champion with gold medals in all four distances. Not surprisingly, she won the 2006 Lou Marsh Award as Canadian Athlete of the Year.
"I'm so grateful I’m allowed to be an athlete as a career," Cindy said. "I'm always thinking that I’m doing this for God. Then it makes it meaningful. I can't give God any less than my best.” And her best means giving everything she has, every day, every time. "Each practice counts—every step, every push on the ice. ... I have to make it as perfect as possible."
Cindy's choice to put God first and give God the glory in times of achievement has been hard-won through times of difficulty. In 2003, just as her career was gaining momentum, a serious injury threatened to end it all. She couldn’t race or train, and she didn’t know if she would ever compete again. She came home to Winnipeg, Manitoba, to reconnect with her family.
With unexpected time on her hands, she immersed herself in Scripture. Cindy came out of that lull stronger than ever. She stormed back into international competition, winning titles and breaking records all the way to the podium at Turin.
Then in February 2008, Cindy abruptly left competition in Europe and rushed home to Winnipeg, where her sister Lisa had skidded off a bridge in her SUV and plummeted 15 meters to break through the ice of the Red River below.
"The church surrounded us with prayer," Cindy says. The family waited at the hospital day and night while Lisa fought to survive. Lisa not only survived but made a complete recovery.
Now Cindy is again recovering from surgery and trusting God with her future. "My goal is just to make it to the [Winter] Olympics—just because I had knee surgery last year." She wants to skate in front of a home crowd in Vancouver, B.C. "To be part of the Olympics in Canada would be an honor."
Together with the bronze medal she won in the 2002 Winter Olympics in the 3,000-meter race, Cindy has won more Olympic medals than any other Canadian athlete—male or female—in any sport.
"I love the sport. I know that when I'm going out and enjoying it, then the pressure to succeed doesn't even exist. I'm having so much fun that I don't worry about outside pressure."
As she has all along, Cindy trusts God completely with her future. "If I give it my all," she says, "then the outcome is in God's hands."
Don't let the meekness fool you.
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