Victory in the rough

If you always practice under perfect conditions, what happens when you have to compete in the real world? Photo: -Wink- (Flickr)

CORAL GABLES, Fla., December 1, 2012 ― I’ve spent most of my life searching for one thing … still, peaceful water. As a professional water skier, carving through calm, still water was always my preference. My family and I went to great lengths to find water that was protected from wind and other boaters so that I could train without interruptions. We went so far as to build a private lake! I can still remember the waters rising in the freshly dug lake in Grimesland, NC, and my excitement over having my own place to train.

“This is going to be perfect!” I thought. “No boats, no jelly fish, and no waves!”

It didn’t take long to realize that my dream of perfectly calm water was just that, a dream. We weren’t on the lake a week before the wind found it’s way to our little piece of heaven. Even our perfectly sculpted shorelines quickly eroded, causing waves to bounce back into the slalom course.

As a child, I began to imagine how wonderful it would be if my parents would build a dome over the top of the lake. With a dome of protection, I’d be able to train in perfect conditions all year round. Never again would I have to face the trials of the wind, the rain, or the cold. How marvelous!

I’m sure it would have been, right up until the moment I stepped out from under my sheltered dome and into the real world of water skiing where perfect conditions rarely exist. At that moment of truth, I am sure my confidence and performance would have been shaken to the core. I doubt, too, that I would have come home the victor.

I have to laugh when I think about all the time I spent in my career wishing and waiting for perfect conditions, as well as all the time I wasted complaining about these elements. No skier, especially me, enjoys stepping off the dock when the wind is howling and the waves are crashing. It’s not pleasant, for anyone.

But you know what? The turning point of my career came the day when I decided to quit focusing on the elements and all the “what if’s” and simply face the waves. Victory came when I quit complaining about the waves and instead, found a way to ski through them. Growth came when I quit sitting on the sidelines wishing for better conditions and courageously stepped out of my comfort zone and allowed those conditions to stretch me.

The truth of the matter is that these elements and my willingness to face them head-on helped me become both a World Champion and the World Record Holder in women’s slalom from 1992-2010. The rough waters put me to the test and proved my abilities. And it was the victory in the rough water and over the tough opponents that made my career so rewarding. Winning in the calm and without a worthy opponent pales in comparison.

The same is true in life.

As I look back over my life, I can’t help but think about all the times I’ve sat on the “shoreline” waiting for perfect conditions or wishing certain opponents would just disappear. As in skiing, I’ve often complained about my plight and grown fearful over the waves that tossed about me. I’ve often wished God would just place a dome over my life so I could be free from unpleasant, challenging circumstances and interruptions from other people!

But as I’ve gone through this thing called life, I’ve learned that just as calm, uninterrupted waters aren’t a reality in water sports, unchallenging “waters” aren’t a reality in life, either. Life has a way of churning up the water. It has a way of sending waves our way.

Sometimes these waves come in the form of a constant chop as we go through our daily routines and responsibilities of life; but sometimes they roll in like a tsunami! A career as a professional athlete, fourteen surgeries, lyme disease and other chronic illnesses, an international adoption, and the experiences of being a ministry leader, mother, and wife have confirmed these truths in my life. Jesus also confirms it when He says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33, NLT).

Many times I’ve wanted to ask,“Where’s the calm water, God? Where’s the still waters you promised to lead me beside in Psalms 23:2?” Sometimes the world just seems like one big ocean!

But as I’ve faced each wave with Christ, I’ve found several things to be true. First of all, I’ve discovered that this verse isn’t about God leading me to a life free of obstacles and interruptions. Nor is it about Him leading me through a life free of challenges. Rather, Psalms 23:2 is about God leading me to a place of internal peace in the midst of the raging seas. Calm waters and green meadows (places of rest) are found in Christ, not in my circumstances.

The turning point in my water ski career came when I faced the literal waves head-on with courage and without complaint. Likewise, victory came, and an intimate relationship with God emerged when I shifted my focus from the waves that raged around me to the One who could lead me through them victoriously.

As I’ve looked to God to guide and direct me, He has always been faithful to provide for my every need and lead me to a place of internal rest, peace, and refreshment. He has consistently led me through the “waters of difficulty,” and praise God, they have never overtaken me! (Isaiah 43:2).

No matter how difficult the waters in life become, I can promise you this: There is no wave too big for God. There is no battle that He cannot win on your behalf. So don’t let circumstances, people, thoughts, or emotions keep you on the “shore” and rob you of the joy of experiencing victory in the rough places of life!

Remember this promise: “If God be for us, who can be against us? Since He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else? … Can anything separate us from His love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” (Romans 8:31-17 NLT).



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Kristi Overton-Johnson


As a professional water skier for over 20 years and the World Record Holder in women’s slalom from 1992-2010, Kristi Overton Johnson has taken to the waters of the world with passion and perseverance. Kristi began her waterskiing career at the age of 4 and turned professional at 13. For 15 years, Kristi dominated women’s slalom, accumulating 80 professional wins and capturing more number one world rankings than any other female skier in history.
Before retiring from professional sports, Kristi founded a non-profit water sports ministry In His Wakes. Since its inception, In His Wakes has touched the lives of over 10,000 at-risk youth across the nation and internationally. This unique ministry brings hope, healing and encouragement through the avenue of water sports and through the message of God's love.
For years, Kristi has travelled nationally and internationally as a faith-based motivational speaker encouraging people through her life experiences as an athlete, wife, mother and ministry leader. Kristi also ministers through song and through her gift as a writer. In Running the Course, her first book, she wrote about her experiences as a top professional athlete and how through faith she found purpose for her life. 
Although Kristi is committed to helping others achieve their God-given destinies, she realizes that her first priority is her family. Kristi has been married to best friend Tim Johnson since 1994. Tim and Kristi have three children, the youngest of which were both adopted from Russia in 2004. They reside in North Florida where they raise their family and serve their community through Kristi Overton Johnson Ministries

Contact Kristi Overton-Johnson


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