John Napier

John Napier
Driver

Napier hopes to make Olympic Bobsled Team

I always defined myself to others as religious. All of my life I have believed in God. The problem is I did not follow His ways. 

 While growing up in Schenectady, New York, I did a number of athletic activities: bmx, soccer, karate, basketball, baseball, riding dirt bikes, and of course, bobsled. Although these sports occupied a lot of my time I still managed to get in trouble.

“If I had continued, I was sure to end up in jail, or even dead”

Through my teenage years I got involved in some nasty activities. I drank, I did drugs, and I was beaten up, robbed and even shot at because of my behaviors. If I had continued, I was sure to end up in jail, or even dead.

In my middle teens I started to excel in the sport of bobsled. My father once competed in it and got me into it at the age of eight. I looked up to my father as a great bobsledder, as my best friend, and a coach. We spent many hours sitting and chatting about bobsled and life. When I was 16 he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. After a two-year struggle with this disease he passed away. I remember the day and even the moment it happened like it was yesterday.

I was blessed that my father—three months prior to his death—was able to see my very first World Cup bobsled race. I raced in the four-man bobsled that week and placed 15th in my first race. He was standing at the finish line, cheering me on and telling me what a great job I did. It was a proud moment for the both of us. But four months later, on June 12, my father slipped away.

“I cried every night for two years”

For months following the loss of my Dad, I was still in denial. Some of my closest friends were not even aware of my loss because I could not bear to tell them what happened. I slipped into a valley of darkness, making even worse mistakes and choices in my life that gave me some instant fulfillment, but in the long run they left me even more alone and empty. I cried every night for two years.

Through that struggle one amazing thing did happen. A pastor named Derek Spain came to visit my father one day in the hospital. I was walking down the hall on my way to see my father, when this man came up to me as if he knew me. I was just off of a drunken high from my previous night and didn’t really care who he was. He explained that he had seen me race many times in Lake Placid. I asked him what he was doing in Schenectady and he replied, “I came down to see your father and pray with him.” I was shocked. Who was this man who drove five hours just to pray for my dad? I was confused because I didn’t understand why someone would do such a thing. Before ending our conversation he told me about an athlete Bible study held at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center, and that if I was ever around I was welcome to stop by. 

“I was curious about who God really was”

I decided that if a man was willing to drive five hours to see my dad, I better go support his Bible study for a few weeks. After all, I believed in God. I attended the first few not long after my dad died because I felt I had to, but then something happened. I felt some connection between God and me. Then I started to go because I was curious about who God really was and how He was at work in the world today.

I wanted the love Derek showed me and my father. Over the next few years of going to the Bible study my knowledge grew of the Bible and of God’s ways. I started to implement His ways into my life and was beginning to see the blessings.

The spring of 2007 I decided to join the U.S. Army. My future in bobsled was very promising but I was at a point without my father where my mother alone could not support my sliding endeavors.

The following year I returned to bobsled and finished my best results ever in 8th place in the world. I started to build on my faith more and more as the months went on, thanking God for my victories and accomplishments, and things were looking great. I even met a girl at Bible study!

But as soon as I found something else to fill my heart, I put God to the side again and gave this girl first place in my life. She was all that mattered to me. We did everything together. I relied on her with my feelings and with my heart.

“I experienced the same pain as when I lost my father”

Then she walked out of my life. First my father died, and now the girl who I had been planning a future with was gone. I experienced the same pain in my heart as when I lost my father. Once again I found that valley and this time it was deeper and darker than before. Every night I was alone reading the Bible and crying to God, “Why have You forsaken me, why have You left me alone again, God?”

This time I was not doing drugs, drinking, or searching for comfort in women, but I was doing something far worse. I was blaming myself and threatening my own life.

Then God spoke to me through a friend and she said to read Jeremiah 29:11-14: “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity.” I took this as a promise from God that He has me in His plans, that I should not worry, but have hope for the future. It also says we have to search for Him, and when we search we must do it with ALL our hearts.

“I was ready”

I was searching, praying, and crying halfheartedly. After reading this I called my pastor and told him I wanted to get baptized. No more waiting, no more half-heartedness, I was ready to follow and obey Christ.

Through my toughest times in life I have discovered God. It has been hard, but I thank Him for all my struggles and valleys because they all led me to salvation in Jesus Christ. I am very happy now to be competing for my Lord and with everything I do, praising Him. Currently I am competing for my first spot on an Olympic winter team in bobsled. It has been my dream since childhood.

Being in the Army and in high-level athletics is a difficult place for a Christian to live, but even among the toughest times I have found the Lord and His followers everywhere. I now know if you search for God and search with all your heart, you will find Him, because He is there. He is beside you at all times just waiting for you to let Him in. Joshua 1:5 says, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” That is our promise to hold onto that in all our struggles in life, through every valley, Jesus is always with us and will never leave us or forsake us. We can shield ourselves in Him.

 

Images provided by: Charlie Booker