For the Glory of God

By Paul Wylie   •   January 11, 2006

My heart was racing. In moments, I would be representing the United States in the 1992 Winter Olympic Games, competing in men’s individual figure skating. I was warming up for my “short program,” a two-minute, 40-second routine that included specific required elements.

One element, the triple axel combination, requires three and a half revolutions. I had to make sure that my feet were pulled in tight together in the air, so I could get around. But on my first attempt, I found myself sliding across the ice.

I skated down the ice for another attempt, thinking about what I needed to do to get it together: pass my free leg closer and pull in tight. I fell again, and I realized that I didn’t have any more tries. Time was up; I hadn’t landed the combination cleanly even once.

No one considered me a favorite or a potential medal winner. Even if I were to skate my best, it would be a real stretch to think about winning a medal. The highest I had ever finished at the world championships was ninth.

Finding Christ
I was born in Dallas and started skating when I was 3. I didn’t really expect to go very far. It was sort of a hobby that we did as a family. But I recognized early on that I was gifted in certain aspects of skating. I wasn’t a natural-born jumper, but I could interpret the music.

We moved to Denver when I was 11, and I started to train with Carlo Fassi, who had coached Olympic champions.

In Dallas, I had sung in the church choir and gone through first communion class. But in Denver, my family started to skate on Sundays and we drifted away from God. It wasn’t until I was 20, when I moved to train with coaches in Boston, that I started to seek God. I knew that church was an important place to be, and I drew comfort from going there.

One particular stretch of weeks, every Sunday it seemed like the pastor was talking to me and God was communicating to me. One day the pastor preached on Bartimaeus, the blind man who said to Jesus, “Lord, have mercy on me.”

The Son of God, who knew everyone’s mind and heart, asked, “What would you have Me do for you?” The point of the sermon was that God wants us to articulate our needs to Him through prayer. He wants to meet us at the ground zero of our needs. The pastor said God would be faithful to answer those prayers; we simply had to ask Him.

That seemed radical to me. I started to realize that prayer wasn’t a formality or something to do from rote memorization. It was personal. God wanted to meet me where I was.

I committed my life to Jesus Christ and became reconfirmed. I shared my testimony with my father, who had been laid off from his job in the oil business. He came to a strong faith in Christ, as did my mother.

A few months later I started college at Harvard and became involved with Christian groups on campus. It was exactly what I needed. I grew in my love for God and in my walk with Christ.

Adventure With God
I continued to pursue skating. At the world championships in 1991, I barely made the cut to go to the final. I missed several elements in the short program, and at one point I was in 23rd place. Only 20 would make the cut. Somehow, as other people skated, I went from 23rd to 20th. I made the final and skated well, finishing 11th in the world.

That fall, I competed in the Olympic trials. I skated OK, but it wasn’t my best. I changed into my street clothes, thinking there was no way I had made the team. But God must have had a reason for me to make that team. I made it by a tenth of a point.

For the next five weeks I trained my best ever, and I felt strong going into the Olympics. When I arrived in Albertville, France, I noticed that I was skating the best of the American men. While there, I meditated on Scripture and kept reminding myself that I was skating for the glory of God.

And God was about to do something dramatic. Even after my discouraging warm-up, I skated the short program cleanly–including the triple axel combination. I was in third place, which was beyond my wildest expectation.

In the long program, I pulled up to second place and won the silver medal. I couldn’t help but just beam the entire time because the result was “exceeding abundantly above all I could have asked or imagined” (Cf. Ephesians 3:20).

In the years since then I have married and earned an MBA at Harvard Business School. Kate and I have a daughter, Hannah, who was born in 2003. I have worked in marketing for the Disney Company, and I provide commentary for ESPN on some Grand Prix skating events.

I’ve recently joined the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association as director of Dare to Be a Daniel, Franklin Graham’s new effort to train “tweens” (children aged 9-14) in evangelism. In this culture where kids grow up so fast, we believe that the Great Commission is the responsibility of everyone, including tweens. We will equip them to share Christ with their friends. Look for the program to launch in May, with a Web site, music and practical teaching.

Whether it’s stepping onto the ice for the short program in the Olympics, being at my desk at Harvard Business School or working for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, each experience is part of an adventure that God is taking me on, and I’m excited about this new chapter. It’s all for His glory.

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