As the winner of five medals at the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, speed skater Cindy Klassen made Olympic history. Combined with the bronze medal she won in Salt Lake City four years earlier, Klassen became one of the most decorated Canadian athletes at either the Summer or Winter Games.
Klassen won four more world medals in 2007 but had to undergo a series of knee operations on damaged ligaments dating back to a basketball injury from her teenage years. The surgery took place in the summer of 2008, but thanks to her fighting spirit and determination, she is once more competing in Vancouver this month.
Despite all the accolades, Klassen insists that the joy she has in knowing Jesus and having a relationship with Him is “the best thing in my life. I know that He loves me unconditionally, which gives me a reason to live every day and helps me to show love to other people as well.”
After she shared her testimony with BGEA video producers, Klassen’s story was shown at the 2006 Franklin Graham Festival in her hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. In the video Klassen says, “Having Jesus at the center of my life and as my friend has made such a huge difference in my life. I have Him there to lean on and to talk to. Basically He’s my friend and someone that I can go to when I am happy or when I’m sad. That has created the person I am today.”
Klassen’s race for the True Crown began quietly when she was a young girl: “When I was about five or six years old, that’s when I became a believer and follower of Christ. My mom was in my bedroom, she sat me down, and we said a prayer. That’s how I became a Christian.”
She says her parents supported all four children “100 percent in everything that we did, although our number one priority was God and making sure that He was at the center of our lives.”
Outside of church and family, her interests expanded to include the game of hockey: “All my friends were playing hockey and my parents loved hockey. I started when I was about four years old, and it became my passion.”
Disappointment and Change
Klassen continued to compete throughout her teenage years and initially thought God’s plan for her life included playing hockey in the ’98 Olympics. But after failing to qualify for the team, she was forced to re-evaluate that plan.
“I was just so disappointed … pretty devastated,” says Klassen. “I didn’t know what to do because I really thought that’s where God wanted me to be, so I spent a lot of time in prayer and questioning why because I just couldn’t really understand it.”
She admits it was a really hard time in her life, but knew she needed to keep Him close and at the center of her life. Soon her parents suggested speed skating as an alternative to hockey. “I thought, ‘Well, I may as well try it. I’ve got nothing to lose.’
“God works in mysterious ways,” Klassen adds. “I never expected that I would be turned on to a different path and become a speed skater.”
A Medal … and More Challenges
A year or two after winning a bronze medal in the 2002 Olympics, Klassen faced another trial. During a practice at the Olympic Oval, she crashed at a pretty high speed into another skater, cutting a few tendons, a nerve and an artery. Klassen was forced to sit out a few months.
“This was a phase in my life where my faith grew a lot because I was basically sitting at home,” she explains. “I couldn’t do anything, so I had a lot of time to spend reading my Bible and in prayer. I also had my church back home around me. There were a lot of people praying for me and I just feel like my faith grew.”
Klassen says she gained a lot of perspective too. “God has given me this great gift to be a speed skater and I knew I needed to use it to the best of my ability. When I got back onto the ice, I felt really hungry to race again and I just felt so grateful that God has given me this gift to be a speed skater.”
The Greatest Gift
The 2006 Olympics were memorable, says Klassen. “I did better than I expected! I ended up getting two Bronze medals, a Silver, and a Gold. I leaned on God a lot during that time. … I remember before my 1500 meter race just feeling so at peace. That’s when I won the Gold medal and I felt like God was there with me.
“I needed to trust in Him–that as long as I skated the best that I could, then that’s all that He expected from me.”
According to Klassen, the greatest thing about being a Christian is “that God has given me this free gift of salvation, but I know that I need to use that and give back to Him. I think its really important for me every day of my life to make sure that I’m working hard to get closer to Him and to share the Gospel with other people and help other people.”
She is “forever grateful” for this free gift of salvation and “I need to use the gift that He’s given me.”
Finishing the Race
Klassen would encourage people who are trying to finish their own races well to make sure you’re spending time with God every day. “It is really important to read Scripture, and make sure that He’s walking beside you and guiding you.”
She also says it is important to be around Christian friends “who can support you and that you can talk to and lean on.”
But the most important thing is “having Jesus there beside you as your friend, because He’s never going to leave you. He’s always going to love you no matter what happens.”
WANT TO READ MORE STORIES LIKE THIS?
Check out the testimonies of other Christian Olympic athletes at BeyondTheUltimate.org The website was originally developed in partnership with Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, as a platform for Super Bowl coaches Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith and their players to share the important role that faith in Jesus Christ has played in their lives. Beyond The Ultimate has since expanded to reach fans of a variety of sports.