Faith Played Out on the Mat
My parents are from Bulgaria, and we moved to the U.S. when I was four. They tried to teach us good morals, but they had been burned by the church in the communist experience. In my (high school) years, I was an outspoken atheist, and I would get in trouble and curse a lot. During my sophomore year, I joined the wrestling team. A few of my teammates were Christians, and they took me aside to talk about my behavior. I tried to become a better person after that.
During my senior year, a friend shared the gospel, and it really resonated and stuck with me. In college, God surrounded me with solid believers that took me to Bible studies. During that freshman year, I really began to take my faith seriously. I started going to a Bible study for the wrestling team.
My faith started growing as God was revealing Himself to me. I have always been very intellectual and I was working through the thoughts I was having that weren’t in line with my emotions. Wrestling is a very personal sport and most people don’t realize what goes through your head when you’re about to engage in one-on-one combat, fully in front of everyone. I came to learn more about myself and be humbled by the revelation that I was a sinner. The Bible could describe me better than I could myself.
My faith and my whole life interact, but I think you see my faith play out most in my sport. The realization that I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without God has been freeing. I don’t have anything to live up to. This is something He’s given me to enjoy and experience, and I want to honor Him through it. He’s given me a passion for this sport and to improve and learn. There would be no way I wouldn’t turn wrestling into an idol without God. He’s kept me grounded. If I remove Him from the highest place in my life, everything else will suffer. Jesus is my life, and it’s been cool to experience Him through this sport I have a passion for.
Winning the 2012 Olympic Trials makes this all so real for me. It’s been a cool process, and I’m excited to see where God is going to lead me. I’ve felt His presence through all of this, and I’ve asked Him to reveal Himself to me; and He has been. He’s had His hand in this whole process. I want to give Him all the glory.
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