by Melissa Meyer
This summer, Olympics viewers are getting to know David Boudia not only as an award-winning diver but also as an outspoken follower of Christ.
Boudia, 27, is a member of Faith Church, Lafayette, Indiana. Competing in the Olympics has been “an all-consuming passion and obsession” of his since age 7. At that time Boudia was an excelling gymnast and watched with admiration as the U.S. women’s gymnastics team won the first ever gold medal for the United States during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Boudia’s parents, Jim and Sheilagh, had initially involved their son in gymnastics after seeing him do flips off of their furniture. But after he broke a growth plate in his foot, he turned to diving when he was 11 years old. “In essence, diving was gymnastics over water,” he says.
Boudia went on to train in Indianapolis, and then at Purdue University beginning in 2008. He has won multiple national titles and world championship medals since he began competing in 2005, including gold and bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. On Monday night, Aug. 8, Boudia earned another silver medal when he and his teammate, Steele Johnson, placed second in the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform competition in Rio de Jeneiro. The medal is the first for Johnson, 20, who is making his Olympic debut this year.
Even as an accomplished three-time Olympian, Boudia says his identity is rooted in Christ, not athletics. Speaking for himself and Johnson immediately following their win on Aug. 8, he told the NBC national viewing audience, “We both know that our identity is in Christ, and we’re thankful for this opportunity to be able to dive in front of Brazil and in front of the United States. It’s been an absolutely thrilling moment for us.”
Johnson agrees. “The fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is just gave me peace . . . and it let me enjoy the contest,” Johnson says. “God’s given us a cool opportunity, and I’m glad I could come away with an Olympic silver medal in my first-ever event.”
Johnson—whom Boudia drove to practices when Johnson was 10 years old—says he has learned a lot from Boudia about diving, life, and faith. He calls Boudia “the best mentor—just one of the best people to be around.” But Boudia says he wasn’t always “one of the best people to be around.”
Boudia first competed in the Olympic Games in 2008, a time when his only goal was to achieve riches, fame, and success—and winning a gold medal, he believed, was the key. “With a single focus that never wavered I pursued the dream of Olympic gold, not for some noble purpose but because of what I thought it could deliver,” he told Faith Church. “The harder I pressed and the closer I got to that goal, the more miserable my life became. . . . No matter how much I accomplished and how happy I should have been, fulfillment always seemed just beyond my grasp.”
After a disappointing performance in the 2008 Games, he found himself in “a downward spiral of hopelessness and despair.” By 2009, despite winning a silver medal at the FINA World Championship, he was so unhappy that “suicide wasn’t off the table as an option for me,” he writes in his autobiography, Greater than Gold. His depression was fueled in part by his reckless lifestyle choices. “My whole purpose had proven hollow, and the destruction that followed my life left it in pieces. I didn’t know it at the time, but my purpose needed to be redirected and redeemed. I needed to be redirected and redeemed.” In the fall of 2009, David Boudia found Christ.
“One Saturday in September,” Boudia relates, “I hit a brick wall, and just severely depressed and suicidal thoughts were coming into my mind. I reached out to one of my teammates, Ashley Karshen, because I had noticed a considerable change in her life. She suggested that I reach out to my coach, Adam Soldati, and the next night he invited me over.
“Initially, I was pretty excited, because I thought I was going to get this quick fix. I would get this go-getter ambitious David back on his feet that only cared about himself and was self-driven. That’s exactly the opposite of what they did. They gave me Jesus instead. They gave me the gospel. I remember sitting in that rocking chair in the living room with him and his wife, Kimiko, and it was like ear plugs were coming out of my ears and I could hear the sweet song of forgiveness.
“In the weeks that followed I investigated this truth for myself. Sometime during that I recognized that I was rebellious, that I could not live this life the way I was doing it, and accepted Christ into my life.”
Boudia now has a different, more satisfying purpose in life than obtaining medals. His purpose now is to know God and make Him known. No, Boudia’s life is not perfect, he admits. No one’s is. The new husband and father says he has a lot to learn about how to love his wife, Sonnie, whom he married in October 2012, and how to teach his daughter, Dakoda, born in September 2014. And he’s “constantly tempted to be consumed with [himself].” But he knows that God is working in his life, and he relies on God’s truths in Scripture to overcome anxiety, particularly Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
On Friday, Aug. 19 Boudia will compete in the preliminary round of the individual 10-meter platform, the event in which he is the reigning gold medalist. The semifinals and finals will take place Aug. 20. But if he’s nervous at all, he can recall the encouraging words of Nick Lees, pastor of college ministries at Faith Church, before Boudia’s 2012 performance in London. “David, what is there to be nervous about? God has already walked through this event. He already knows what’s going to happen. What you get to do is be a vehicle for His glory. Now go out there and do whatever you can to glorify Him.”
Melissa Meyer is an editor for Regular Baptist Press and assistant editor of the Baptist Bulletin.
Update: Congratulations to David Boudia on winning bronze in the individual 10-meter platform competition Aug. 20. The win makes him the first American diver to medal in the event in consecutive Olympics since Greg Louganis took gold in 1984 and 1988. Winning a fourth medal also makes him the second-most decorated U.S. Olympic diver in history. He is tied for the honor with two other men, surpassed only by Louganis.