Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim have snagged bronze medals as members of the U.S. figure skating team, and the husband-wife duo take on the world this week in the Olympic pairs competition.
But Scimeca-Knierim has a higher mission than winning gold.
“Even here at the Games, it’s no longer about me. I have fans out there who know that I’m a true believer in the Lord, and I’m trying my best to shine His light and let people know that it’s okay to kind of promote Him and do things for Him, because in the Christian life, that’s kind of what we’re supposed to do,” she told the media over the weekend.
“So I’m treating this competition to glorify God, and my followers know that that’s my purpose. And it makes me happy.”
For the Christian, faith matters all the time, whether the stage is big or small, said Ted Kluck, an author of books on topics including Mike Tyson and the evangelical church, a professor of journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and co-host of the Happy Rant podcast.
“Specifically, I think faith matters a lot in an Olympic context, where it seems like a person’s whole existence is made or broken in a few minutes of competition,” Kluck said Tuesday. “In that context, it’s more important than ever to remember that we are justified by faith in the finished work of Christ alone, and not by our performance.”
Scimeca-Knierim said giving up control and relying on her Christian faith allowed her to come back from an illness a couple of years ago. Gastrointestinal problems led to three abdominal surgeries in 2016, and she withdrew from competitions to heal; she has also been photographed with her scar.
“It’s the reason I was able to get back on the ice, because I stopped worrying and stopped trying to control life, because I couldn’t in the moment,” Scimeca-Knierim said. “I was so sick and didn’t really know where things were going to go for me, whether it be skating or life in general. So I finally just threw my hands up and said, ‘You lead the way.’ And it’s my testimony, and I stay true to it.”
Nicholas Watson, a professor of sport and social justice at York St. John University in Britain, said in a Christianity Today podcast this week that the theology of “muscular Christianity” behind the modern Olympics was seeing “the body as a good thing that can be used as a tool to serve Jesus.”
The Knierims are among the athletes on Team USA, including bobsled team member Elana Meyers Taylor, snowboarder Kelly Clark, speedskater Maame Biney and women’s hockey player Gigi Marvin, who are open about their Christian faith. The Knierims attend a Bible study with athletes and coaches in Colorado Springs, where they live.
“We both share the same thing,” Chris Knierim said of his faith.
The couple, who met in 2012 and wed in June 2016, are the first married duo to win an Olympics medal for the United States since 2000. In January 2018, they won a second national championship and joined the U.S. team.
Scimeca-Knierim’s profile on her Instagram account says “Love: God, rhinestones, animals & @Chris_Knierim”
“So it’s taken a big kind of role in my life and Chris’s, and I truly believe that’s why we were able to get here, because I think I would have tried to control the situation,” she says.
Before they compete, they pray with other skaters and coaches, Scimeca-Knierim said. Their coaches are Larry Ibarra and Dalilah Sappenfield, who officiated their wedding, according to an NBC story.
“Luckily, both of our coaches are on board with the same kind of mind-set and journey with us. So it’s a huge group together,” Scimeca-Knierim said.
Kluck said group prayers are common in various sports but “more common in violent sports like football, where mortality is in the air. That said, I think it’s natural for a person to want to invoke a higher power when that person is most nervous.”
Freelancer Emily Giambalvo contributed to this report.