2020
Elite Athletes and the Gospel
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“Elite Athletes and the Gospel,” Liahona, August 2020

Elite Athletes and the Gospel

Four elite athletes who are members of the Church talk about how the gospel has helped them not only in their sport but also in their lives.

Casey Patterson: Beach Volleyball

I’ve never forgotten this line from a conference talk: “Hard work … involves going after it ‘with all your heart, might, mind and strength’ (Doctrine and Covenants 4:2). That alone is the difference between the average and the excellent” (F. David Stanley, “The Principle of Work,” April 1993 general conference).

In my sport I focus on being resilient and having a positive attitude. It’s easy to look at the kid who can jump higher than you or perform better, but getting a good grasp of your attitude is what really matters. Working hard is the main thing that controls your destiny. It’s important to compare yourself to yourself—nobody else.

About Casey:

  • Has been playing volleyball for nearly 25 years.

  • Has three younger sisters.

  • Represents USA.

  • Interesting fact: His mom wouldn’t let him grow a mohawk until he had served a mission and gotten married.

Jason Smyth: Track and Field

Photographs of Jason Smyth from Getty Images

I was diagnosed with an eye disease when I was eight years old, and over the years my vision has been reduced to less than 10 percent. But I have had many blessings through the sport of running and competing in the Paralympics. A few years ago, an injury resulted in surgery, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to compete again. But I was blessed by Heavenly Father to heal well and be able to continue competing.

I know that Heavenly Father loves me and wants what is best for me, and that gives me comfort and reassurance that what happens is what’s best for me.

About Jason:

  • Has been running for 15 years.

  • Has one brother and three sisters.

  • Represents Ireland.

  • Interesting fact: Participating in elite sports gives him a unique opportunity to share the gospel.

Mary Lake: Volleyball

Growing up, a lot of girls struggle with the adversary targeting their self-worth. The world places an emphasis on what we look like, and if you’re an athlete, you’re being watched a lot. I felt a lot of anxiety playing volleyball at Brigham Young University. Lots of eyes were on me, and it brought up insecurities. I had been praying to get through the doubts that came with those insecurities. It wasn’t an immediate answer, but I know that it was those prayers and that time with Heavenly Father that helped me overcome those.

The Spirit reminded me that I am now a different person than I was four years ago. Looking back, I can see times when Heavenly Father’s hand gave me experiences and impressions that I have so much more worth than I thought.

I’m so much more than athletics. My mom says I could quit everything that other people label me as, but I could still be a wonderful person and a wonderful daughter. My family treats me like I’m human and loves me for things that aren’t athletics. That has allowed me to enjoy my sport more since my self-worth isn’t really tied up in how I perform. Volleyball is only a certain number of years of my life, but who I am is infinite.

Younger girls often come to me and talk to me about volleyball. I get a glimpse of who they are and how Heavenly Father feels about them. I just want them to understand that they don’t have to be a college athlete or do anything extraordinary to have great value and be loved. My main message to them is to ask Heavenly Father about their worth and realize that it’s not connected to any one thing they do.

About Mary:

  • Has been playing volleyball since age 7.

  • Youngest of six siblings—three sisters and two brothers.

  • Represents USA.

  • Interesting fact: Loves to crunch numbers and studied accounting at Brigham Young University.

Jackson Payne: Gymnastics

I had a great chance to qualify for the London Olympics in 2012, but in the most important competition, I fell off the apparatus. My chance at the Olympics was gone. I was halfway around the world, and my dreams were shattered.

Shortly after that failure, I decided I wanted to go on a mission. I might not have gone if I had made it into the Olympics, but my mission was one miracle after another. I was so grateful for that opportunity.

The gospel has helped me make right decisions, especially at times when it’s difficult to keep my standards. It shapes who I am and all the values that I have.

About Jackson:

  • Has been doing gymnastics for about 22 years.

  • Fifth of six siblings—three older brothers, an older sister, and a younger sister.

  • Represents Canada.

  • Interesting fact: Got to shake the hand of President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) at the dedication of the Edmonton Alberta Temple.