Van Ens: Fans cheer Olympians and others who take wild rides (column) |

Van Ens: Fans cheer Olympians and others who take wild rides (column)

Jack Van Ens

We cheer Olympic athletes who snapback from tough spills.

Skier Lindsey Vonn has earned 80 World Cup victories after suffering frightening crashes into safety fences. She recovers, intensifies her training and hits the slopes again. Fans admire Vonn’s snapback tenacity.

Mikaela Shiffrin, another Olympic gold medalist, epitomizes grit under pressure. So much is expected of her because, at 22 years old, she has conquered ski slopes with a record number of slalom wins.

Mikaela grapples with anxiety before races that puts her on an emotional rollercoaster. She holds nerves in check by taking power naps whenever she needs a mid-day pick-up, even if others near by are noisy. She also intensifies exercise routines, pushing mind and body beyond previous limits.

Taking rollercoaster rides as a given, athletes seek the gold by streaking down slopes and draw cheers. Why do fans admire Olympians who defy odds of wiping out?

We look up to people who press on when outcomes are up for grabs. Some compete in sports that mimic a wildly gyrating stock market.

Earlier this month, the stock market jolted investors. They felt as if they were riding a bucking bronco. The bull market suffered its biggest point plunge in an almost nine-year run. The market’s sudden uptick in volatility perplexed analysts. They predicted stocks would drift downward because interest rates had increased. Signs of inflation indicated an overheated economy.

A few weeks prior to stocks plunging, these market analysts assured investors of the opposite: moderate interest rate hikes, accompanied by mild inflation, wouldn’t catapult stocks into a deep dive.

Like an agitated stock market, world-class athletes thrive on life’s unpredictability. Fans cheer Olympians who excel in sports packed with unexpected results.

The Bible shows people dealing with a murky future. Abraham pulled up tent stakes and ventured into terrain, “… not knowing where he was to go” (Hebrews 11:8). Acting as Abraham’s spiritual heir, Jesus encountered a rollercoaster life, also. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to place his head,” Jesus matter-of-factly declared (Matthew 8:20).

Thomas Jefferson coped with life’s hairpin turns and harrowing dips. An accomplished equestrian at an early age, he galloped with collegian Dabney Carr to a favorite oak tree on the southwestern slope of land that would become his Monticello home. Family lore says these friends made a pact that whoever should die first would be buried by the other under this tree.

After studying law, Carr aroused patriots with speeches questioning the British Crown’s harsh taxes on the colonies. His keynote addresses inspired revolutionaries to form committees of correspondence, which kept resistors informed of British tyranny.

A mere 35 days after making an electrifying speech against British tyranny, Carr unexpectedly died on May 16, 1773. Jefferson made good on his compact. Writing a note in his garden book on May 22, 1773, Jefferson recorded that the Monticello graveyard he plotted years before became Dabney Carr’s final resting place. Replicating Carr’s protests after his friend’s shocking demise, Jefferson used his pen to promote patriotic causes.

Life’s unpredictable moments bring unexpected falls. Like Jefferson, who was bruised but not demoralized, Olympic athletes dramatically enliven life’s script. These athletes teach us how to make the best of bad messes by going for the gold.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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