Sports heroes guided by Christian faith

Sports heroes guided by Christian faith Katie Taylor featured in RTÉ1’s Life and Soul over the Christmas period
Chai Brady compiles a list of seven sport stars to watch out for


The world of sport can be a challenging one, with athletes often pushing themselves to the limits of their physicality, while some may be driven by hopes of fame and renown others put their faith in God and thank Him for all they have achieved.

Many Christian boxers, footballers, rugby players and more have thanked their strong belief for giving them the power to overcome hurdles and hardships, and subsequently becoming some of the biggest names in their discipline.

Here are just a few of the prominent sport stars from Ireland and abroad who have publicly expressed the importance of Christianity in their lives.


Ireland: Katie Taylor – Boxing

One of Ireland’s most prominent and celebrated boxers Katie Taylor has never shied away from pronouncing her Christian Faith.

She took Ireland by storm when she won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, at a time when women’s boxing wasn’t given the same platform as it has now. The ‘Bray Bomber’ also won gold five consecutive times at the Women’s World Championships and a dozen more gold medal wins in European competitions.

Speaking in an interview in 2016 she lamented the fact Irish people are open to so many things, but many don’t seem to be open to God.

She said: “We are living in a society today where you can talk about everything. Everyone is open to everything except for God, so unfortunately that’s the world we are living in today…people get offended when you mention how great God is,” the Dublin native said.

Katie said that she had gone through some “doubts and fears” in her life but “if anyone says that they haven’t gone through any struggles or setbacks – they are lying”.

“There are times in competitions when I have doubted myself or had a few fearful thoughts and that’s when I have to cling onto God and cling to the Scriptures and to focus on what God is saying and not take every thought captive.”

In July 2017 the acclaimed boxer tweeted a photo of herself before her debut fight in the US wearing a t-shirt with the words “It is God who arms me with strength…”

USA: Steele Johnson – Olympic diver

The Olympic diver Steele Johnson’s claim to fame came during his Olympic debut in the 2016 games in Rio where he won a silver medal in the men’s synchronised platform diving competition.

His journey to the Olympics was marked by an horrific incident at age 12 when he cracked open his skull on a concrete platform when trying to perform a triple reverse somersault in a tuck position.

Steele fell over 10 metres into the pool and his coach had to pull him out and hold his head together. To this day he still suffers some memory loss.

From that low point the Indiana native said his Christian faith helped him get to the Olympics. “I wanted to be the kid that had the big injury and came back from it and made the Olympics and all that stuff,” Steele said.

“So it’s kind of embarrassing. But now I’ve kind of realised that God had his hand over all of it to help me come to the realisation, like, that’s not why at all.

“He gave me this ability to dive,” he said. “God kept me alive and he is still giving me the ability to do what I do.”

“It’s cool because this is exciting, this is fun, but this is not what my identity will be for the rest of my life,” he told a US sports media outlet.

“Yeah, I’m Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time I’m here to love and serve Christ. My identity is rooted in Christ, not in the flips we’re doing.”


Brazil: David Luiz – Soccer

Currently playing for Chelsea, David Luiz has also represented his country in the World Cup and earned 50 caps playing for Brazil.

The renowned footballer has never played down his strong Christian beliefs, and is linked to Atletas de Cristo (Athletes of Christ), who are a non-profit organisation made up of sportsmen which was started in Brazil in 1984.

“My faith gives me the belief that I can go out and perform and improve as a player. It gives me strength and inspiration,” Luiz said.

Once when he was asked about his future while he was playing for a Portuguese club, he said:  “Everything in life belongs to God. Our purpose has already been mapped out.”


USA: Simone Biles – Gymnast

With an absent father and a mother suffering from addiction Simone Biles was placed in foster care. Despite a challenging background, her perseverance and faith in God helped her become one of the best gymnasts in the world.

Ohio-born Biles set the US record during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro for the most gold medals – four – in women’s gymnastics at a single Olympics games.

She will go down in the history books for winning a total of 25 Olympic and World Championship medals, making her the most decorated US gymnast and the third most decorated female gymnast in history.

After been taken out of foster care and raised by her grandparents she said they taught her she can go to God for anything and that “he’s the one that directs your life”.

Biles said that in 2011 she didn’t make the national team and was “super upset”.

“But I knew that it was God’s way of telling me that I needed to go home, train harder, so that next year I could make it happen so I believe that some obstacles that we’ve had always work out for the better, because God knows that without those you wouldn’t be as strong as you are.”


Ireland: Cian Lynch – GAA

A talented hurling player with a strong faith, Cian Lynch plays at inter-county level with Limerick and with Patrickswell club.

Lynch has played 16 times for his county and scored a magnificent point from midfield when Limerick won their first All-Ireland in 45 years after defeating Galway in the final this year. He was later named Hurler of the Year.

The hurling star is known to have a strong Christian faith, attends Mass where possible and also wears a religious bracelet.


Ireland: Jacob Stockdale – Rugby

A name that will no doubt go down as one of rugby’s greatest legends, Jacob Stockdale just last month scored the winning try that secured Ireland’s first win on Irish soil against the All Blacks.

Stockdale’s 12th try in 14 matches, born from heroic speed and strength, was one that will not be forgotten. The win against New Zealand caused journalists and critics around the world to dub Ireland’s rugby team the best in the world despite World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, still ranking them second – albeit by a very small margin.

The Tyrone native’s senior debut for Ireland was in June last year against the US, where he scored a try. It was a sign of the times to come as he set a record for an Irish player in the 2018 Six Nations by scoring six tries.


Many may not know that he puts his rugby career in the hands of God. He said: “My dad, growing up, he was a minister, so I always grew up in a Church environment, a Christian environment. So it’s something that’s always been important to my life, and our life as a family.”

Stockdale told a recent church gathering in Co. Down that his deep Faith also helps him cope when things go wrong. “Whenever I have a bad game, or I screw up, or do something stupid, I can just let it go and say: ‘God, you know what you’re at here, so I’ll let you sort it out’. And that takes a lot of pressure off.”

He said that it can sometimes be difficult to combine a life of faith with a rugby career, but added: “The one thing that I found is to keep coming back to church, to keep getting refilled, refreshed. That makes it easier to go back into Ulster [Rugby] every week, and be who I want to be.”


UK: Christine Ohuruogu – Track and Field

Former 400m Olympic, World and Commonwealth Champion Christine Ohuruogu MBE is one of the UK’s most successful athletes. She was the Olympic champion in 2008 and silver medallist in 2012.

Born to Nigerian parents in London, Ohuruogu’s athletic career began early with her being inducted into the London Youth Games Hall of Fame in 2009 for her sporting accomplishments when she was younger.

She sees her athletic talent as a God-given gift that should be fully utilised, saying: “God gives us talents, and wants us to do our best regardless. God doesn’t promise that you’re always going to win. He doesn’t promise that it’s always going to be easy. He doesn’t promise that you’re going to be champion of the world all the time, but what He does say is: ‘Go and do the best you can; glorify Me while you’re doing it, and then all will be well.’ That gives me a lot of comfort.”