Skye Fagrell is a bishop, religious educator, and the best-selling author of “More Fit 4 The Kingdom”. He received a bachelor’s in Visual Arts and a minor in Coaching & Teaching Physical Education from Brigham Young University and completed his master’s in Educational Leadership at Northern Arizona University. He’s taught seminary for over 18 years and is also an online professor for BYU-Idaho. He’s the CEO of More Fit 4 Life, providing leadership and culture consulting. His book, More Fit 4 The Kingdom, outlines how proven principles of physical fitness can be applied in gaining intellectual, spiritual, and social strength. He and his wife, Jacque, live in Arizona, have four children, and have been married over 19 years.
Lindsey Jacobellis was the favorite entering the event. The 20-year-old American and reigning World Champ had comfortably navigated her way into the women’s medal round. Her event, the snowboard cross, was making its Olympic debut during the 2006 Turin games. As expected, she was dominating!
Snowboard cross follows a simple format; get down the course as quickly as possible. Described as “NASCAR on snow” due to its fast, congested, and difficult terrain, snowboard cross is a race to the finish. No points for style, just get down the course first and you win. Simple as that.
In the medal round, Lindsey raced out ahead of her three competitors. One crashed early on and another fell soon thereafter. As one of only two racers still on her feet, Lindsey was way out ahead as she approached the second to the last jump. The sport’s most dominant and recognizable athlete was cruising to the finish, literally.
However, rather than going straight over the jump as she had in all the previous rounds, Lindsey pulled a showboat trick, a “method grab.” Unfortunately, instead of the magazine cover finish she’d envisioned, she wiped out. She fell onto her back and spun off the course. She managed to get back on her feet and headed toward the finish line, but it was too late. Desperately seeking to regain her momentum, Lindsey watched as Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden raced past her for the gold.
To date, Lindsey has won 5 World Championships, 10 X Games Golds, and 29 World Cup Golds. She’s easily the most decorated athlete in the history of snowboard cross. Yet, despite her great achievements, Lindsey’s mistake lives on as a cautionary tale for racers worldwide.
Lessons to Learn from Lindsay
Now, there are certainly lessons we could learn from Lindsay about keeping our guard up. She let hers down and it cost her an opportunity she may never get back again. However, while what she chose to do in that particular race cost her an Olympic gold, she has since chosen not to let that moment defeat or define her. Instead, she not only got back on the course during that race, but she’s continued to race till this day.
Like Lindsey, we’re all involved in a race of sorts, the race of life. I often share Lindsay’s story with those I lead and love who come to visit me with and confessions of “crashes” they’ve experienced along the way. During our interviews I often invite them to draw a line on a paper or on the white board, horizontally from left to right, and ask them to consider that the line represents the “strait and narrow path” spoken of by Lehi that lead to the Tree of Life (1 Ne 8:19-22).
I then invite them to identify where they feel they’re at on the path. Nearly all of them then draw a line descending beneath the original one. While the distance they mark themselves from the path varies, the idea is the same: they’ve gotten “off course.”
When I ask them how they’ve arrived where they have, they generally describe causes that could easily be likened unto words and phrases used in the scriptures: “Mists of darkness clouded my way,” “I let go of the rod,” “I wandered off,” “I was ashamed” (1 Ne 8:23,25,28). While initially accurate in what got them off course, they are often inaccurate in their understanding of how to get “back on.” To help correct these misconceptions I return to Lindsay’s story and explain that, like her, we are all involved in a race of sorts, the race of life. However, while our race shares many similarities with hers, there are four fundamental differences. Let me summarize each:
First: We Can All Win the Gold!
Our race, or purpose, is to experience joy in this life and qualify for eternal life in the next (2 Ne. 2:25; Moses 1:39). There’s no shortage of gold medals to distribute and our Heavenly Parents want us all to succeed. Indeed, the earth was created, and the gospel was revealed so that families could be formed, sealed, and exalted eternally (Church, 2016).
Second: It’s More About our Direction Than Our Speed
In our race it really doesn’t matter how fast we go, nor where we place in comparison to others. Sister Elaine S. Dalton, who has completed many marathons, offered this inspiring counsel to those who’ve gotten off course:
“If I were going the wrong way in the middle of a marathon, and I realized my mistake, would I keep going? I would immediately turn around! Why? Because I would have lost valuable time and precious energy and strength, and it would be much harder for me to finish the marathon because of this extra distance and added time. I wouldn’t stay on the wrong course because no matter how long I ran there, I would never reach the finish line. And yet for many who have made a moral mistake, a little voice keeps saying: ‘You blew it. You can’t change. No one will ever know anyway.’ To you I would say, don’t believe it” (Dalton, 2009).
For us, it’s about the effort we’re making to race according to the training we’ve received. Far more important than our pace, God is concerned about our direction and conduct along the way. If we’ve made a mistake, if we’ve gotten off course, we can change, and we can return!
Third: Crashes Don’t Take Us Out of Contention
While crashes in races like the snowboard cross usually eliminate contestants from medal contention, in our race we can repeatedly crash and still find ourselves in contention for all the glory. In a profound First Presidency Message, entitled “The Gift of Grace,” President Uchtdorf taught:
“The only way we can lose is by giving in or giving up. Sometimes after stumbling, failing, or even giving up, we get discouraged and believe our light has gone out and our race is lost. But I testify that the Light of Christ cannot be extinguished. It shines in the darkest night and will relight our hearts if only we incline our hearts to Him (1 Kings 8:58)… No matter how often or how far we fall, the Light of Christ ever burns brightly. And even in the deepest night, if we but step toward Him, His light will consume the shadows and reignite our souls” (Uchtdorf, 2015).
It’s not so much a matter of whether we’ll crash or go off course – that’s part of our “racing” experience. Are we striving to come to Christ, to make and keep our covenants? That word – striving – allows for plenty of failed attempts. It provides ample grace for our many mistakes. It eliminates the pressure of needing to have a “perfect run.” More than any other word, striving describes what’s asked of us; to keep trying!
Fourth: It Doesn’t Matter What Stage of the Race We’re In
It really doesn’t matter what stage of the race we’re in – the beginning, middle, or end – so long as we’re striving to move forward. As mentioned above, our striving should be to move in the right direction. Elder Renlund beautifully articulated it this way:
“No matter how long we have been off the path or how far away we have wandered, the moment we decide to change, God helps us return. From God’s perspective, through sincere repentance and pressing forward with a steadfastness in Christ, once back on the path, it will be as if we were never off. The Savior pays for our sins and frees us from the looming decrease in happiness and blessings. This is referred to in the scriptures as forgiveness. After baptism, all members slip off the path—some of us even dive off. Therefore, exercising faith in Jesus Christ, repenting, receiving help from Him, and being forgiven are not onetime events but lifelong processes, processes that are repetitive and iterative. This is how we ‘endure to the end’” (Renlund, 2018).
Sometimes we may even be at a stage of our race where a “pause” is what’s most needed to progress. Elder Ballard explained that life can sometimes be like hikers ascending a steep and difficult trail and that it would be both natural and normal to occasionally pause on the path:
“[There] is nothing wrong with [pausing] when your circumstances require. In fact, it can be a positive thing for those who take full advantage of the opportunity to refresh themselves with the living water of the gospel of Christ…The danger comes when someone chooses to wander away from the path that leads to the tree of life. Sometimes we can learn, study, and know, and sometimes we have to believe, trust, and hope” (Ballard, 2016).
Don’t worry about the stage of the race you’re in, nor the need you may occasionally feel to take a progressive pause. Catch your breath, recalculate your bearings, reconsider your pace. All of these are practices employed by skilled and seasoned runners and should be accepted and implemented by disciples running the race of life as well!
Getting Back on the Covenant Path
Getting back on course isn’t so much about our strength and effort, as it is about gaining access to the Savior’s. He is the one who makes our “weak things strong” (Ether 12:27). To be clear – we get back “on course” the moment we reach out to Him, not as the result and culmination of our good works or improved behavior.
Having discussed the four fundamental differences between our race and Lindsay’s, I return to the “straight and narrow path” illustration they have in front of them. I have them look again at the point below the original line where they marked themselves as a result of their crash. I reiterate that we are back “on course” the moment we choose to come to Christ. Talking to their bishop is great evidence that their heart has turned and that their hand is outstretched, much like we can visualize in the scriptures when we read of Peter’s crash while attempting to walk on water, “Lord, save me.” In that instance, the Lord “immediately… stretched for his hand, and caught him…” (Matt. 14:28-30). In this same way, the Lord catches us, the very moment we reach out. As a result, our “path” becomes a “strait and narrow” line from the point we descended directly to our original destination, not back to the point of departure and then on again.
While temporary restrictions may sometimes accompany us on our journey for a season, make no mistake – we are fully on the covenant path, holding to the rod, and progressing with others toward the Tree once again! (1 Ne 8:30).
Conclusion on Crashes
Having qualified for the Olympics three times since 2006, Lindsey has yet to win her elusive Olympic gold. In 2010, she got disqualified in Vancouver after hitting a gate. In 2014, she fell in Sochi. And in 2018, she made it back to the medal round only to be passed by several riders in the late stages and ended up finishing in 4th place, 3 hundredths (.03) of a second behind the 3rd place finisher. Yet despite these crashes and disappointments, Lindsay’s resilient spirit hasn’t allowed her to abandon the quest. Neither can we allow our crashes to allow us to abandon ours, nor those we lead and love!
Our race isn’t about “winning” in the way we traditionally think of it. It’s about trying, failing, strategizing, strengthening, changing, and improving, then trying and sometimes failing again. Again, it’s not so much a matter of whether we’ll crash or go off course, as much as it’s about whether we’ll choose to continue to reach for the Savior when we do. As Nephi taught, “[Ye] have not come this far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ…” (2 Ne. 31:19-20).
As we work with and minister to others who’ve experienced some of life’s crashes, and even find ourselves “off course” from time to time, let us always remember the fundamental truths about the nature of our race and the role of the Savior’s grace, and diligent seek his outstretched hand and encircling arms to pull us to our feet and get us back on the covenant path.
Image: Lindsey Jacobellis at the 2009 LG FIS WorldCup, by Tyler Ingram (https://www.flickr.com/photos/tyleringram/4370882486) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)