Gymnast Jake Dalton focuses on faith over fear

Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton bears a tatoo that reminds him of his source of strength. It quotes Philippians 4:13—"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (RNS Photo by John Cheng)

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (RNS)—Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton isn’t one of those athletes who points heavenward after every successful vault through the air.

But the 24-year-old bears other outward signs of his Christian faith, including two tattoos—a pair of praying hands on his right side and the words of a New Testament verse on the other.

He had his left side etched with Philippians 4:13—“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”—months before traveling to the Olympic trials in 2012.

Dalton since has  become a four-time world medalist and won more than a dozen national medals prior to Rio.

“It was kind of my last little thing to remind myself to do everything that I could to be ready for that team and try to get on that team, and whatever happens, it was God’s plan to happen, whether I made the team or not,” he said of the Bible verse tattoo.

Dalton, a fitness advocate, also wears a favorite necklace in the shape of a kettle bell with the words of Psalm 28:7: “The Lord is my strength.”

The Reno, Nev., native grew up playing different sports but was focused mainly on baseball. But he thinks divine intervention led him to concentrate on the floor routines.

“My baseball coach told me to do gymnastics because it would help with my pitching arm,” he said.

Since the London Olympics, Dalton had a physical setback. He underwent surgery last year for a shoulder injury.

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“My biggest question and fear was, ‘Was I able to get back fast enough to get ready for the Olympic Games?’” he recalled.

Dalton said his faith—especially daily prayer—helped him overcome his fears about competing.

“A lot of it is scary, so I actually do pray throughout most of my workout,” he said.

That spiritual practice calms him down but also energizes him.

“If I’m a little nervous to do something, it kind of allows me to put my trust in my faith and allows me to get through workout a little bit better,” he said.

When Dalton’s busy schedule permits, he and his wife, Kayla, sometimes attend JourneyChurch, an Evangelical Covenant congregation in Norman, Okla., or watch the live-stream of its worship services.

As he prepares to flip through the air and seek the perfect landing, Dalton said, he will continue to try to focus on faith rather than fear.

“Usually, you’re afraid to get hurt. So, my thought process is, if that’s God’s plan that I’m going to get injured, there’s going to be a reason for it, and it’s going to make me stronger,” he said. “I’m ready to go and just put my faith that God’s going to carry me through and keep me safe.”

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