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Team USA: When Kelly Clark’s Gold Didn’t Glitter

“I don’t care if I wake up tomorrow, and I don’t think anybody else cares.”

Kelly Clark was just 20 years old when she wrote that in her journal. It’s not completely uncommon for young adults to have those kinds of hopeless thoughts, especially with the pressure of graduating from college and landing a decent job for a lucrative career path in an unstable economy.

But that wasn’t what was getting Kelly Clark down.

The thing was, Kelly had already accomplished career success two years before at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Not only was she the youngest snowboarder to reach the Olympic finals, but she stuck her landings on the halfpipe to win the gold that year. Kelly claimed the first Olympic gold medal for America after 9/11.

She was 18.

From Top to Bottom

Like anyone, Kelly enjoyed being at the top of her game and the fame that came with being the best boarder on the snow. But something just wasn’t right.

Two years later, she arrived in Park City, Utah, to begin another season, ramping up for the 2006 Olympics slated for Torino, Italy. But her coach, Rick Bower, noticed she was going downhill. And not the snow-covered kind.

“She was not feeling connected. … She was really struggling,” Bower told the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Looking back, Kelly says snowboarding wasn’t as fulfilling as she thought it would be. She was looking for purpose, but where do you look when you’re 20 and have already won the tippy-top award in your industry? Kelly was thinking about quitting the sport because even being the best in the world wasn’t bringing her the happiness she thought it would.

Fortunately, for Kelly, happiness — and purpose — found her before it was too late.

At her first event of the 2006 season, she qualified for the finals, but another woman didn’t. She had fallen during her run and was understandably disappointed, so a friend said to her, “Hey, it’s all right. God still loves you.”

Kelly overheard the conversation, and her ears — or maybe it was her heart — perked up.

She found the woman who had encouraged the disappointed snowboarder and asked her what she meant. Kelly hadn’t really thought about God before then.

“But there was an undeniable stirring in me, and I couldn’t ignore it,” Kelly told the Christian Sports Journal.

The woman explained that being a Christian wasn’t just about going to church and being good.

“… (She) helped me understand that it’s about having a relationship with God,” Kelly continued. “That was where things shifted for me.”

She began realizing her identity wasn’t in her sport or her performance or even her Olympic success. It was in Jesus. Without that shift, Kelly says her world would have disintegrated.

It’s All Right

Kelly Clark didn’t make it to a podium in PyeongChang, but she did come home with a medal this year. Chloe Kim — maybe you’ve heard of her — took the gold in the Women’s halfpipe competition. She’s only 17, about the same age Kelly was when she won her first Olympic gold medal.

Chloe gave Kelly an Order of the Ikkos medal. Each United States Olympic medalist is allowed to present an Order of the Ikkos medal to a coach to recognize their role in the athlete’s success, but Chloe chose to give it to Kelly, someone she’s looked up to ever since she was a little girl.

“How you finish at the end of the day doesn’t equate to how you feel about yourself,” Kelly told the “Today Show” in PyeongChang when they asked her what advice she’d give to younger athletes.

The “Today Show” interview was just hours after she placed fourth in the women’s halfpipe competition. It was probably the last Olympic run of her career.

Kelly’s advice was her way of telling the next generation — and maybe herself — “It’s all right. God still loves you.”

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