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Cindy Klassen: heart of gold

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In January 2006, I spoke with a remarkable young woman who had grown up in my neighbourhood and church. She was becoming a person of note, and the MB Herald had asked me to do a story on her.

As we talked on the phone, I was particularly struck by her gentleness, humility about her accomplishments and goals, genuine kindness toward others, and complete lack of antagonistic ambition.

She quoted Psalm 16:8: “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” I could see that the words she spoke about putting God first in her life and then trusting him with everything were not just church-speak; they genuinely came from the core of her being. “I don’t have to worry about anything because it’s all in God’s hands,” she explained.

I made the mistake of assuming that a person so meek could only achieve so much.

A few weeks later, I, along with the rest of Canada, found myself cheering and leaping, laughing and crying in front of the TV screen as this remarkable young woman won medal after medal in speed skating – five in all – at the Turin Winter Olympics. When I watched her cross the finish line ahead of Germany’s Anni Friesinger to win the gold medal in the 1500m, I screamed until I fainted. Once I recovered, and the cat came out from under the bed, I remembered this young woman had also mentioned, “Well, I guess I am pretty competitive.”

Giving God her best

Cindy Klassen, whose name and face achieved instant international recognition at the Turin Olympics, proved just how much a person so meek can achieve. She went on from Turin to win the World Cup title in the 3000m and to become the World Allround champion with gold medals in all four distances. Not surprisingly, she won the 2006 Lou Marsh Award as Canadian Athlete of the Year.

How has all this fame affected the person beneath? Cindy still loves what she is doing. “I’m so grateful I’m allowed to be an athlete as a career,” she says. And she still gives it all into God’s hands.  “I’m always thinking that I’m doing this for God. Then it makes it very meaningful. I can’t give God any less than my best.” And her best means giving everything she has, every day, every time. “Each practice counts – every step, every push on the ice… I have to make it as perfect as possible.” 

Cindy’s choice to put God first and give him the glory in times of achievement has been hard-won through times of difficulty. In 2003, just as her career was gaining momentum, a serious injury threatened to end it all. She couldn’t race; she couldn’t train; she didn’t know if she would ever compete again. She came home to Winnipeg to reconnect with her family.

With unexpected time on her hands, she immersed herself in the Word of God. Cindy came out of that lull stronger than ever. She stormed back into international competition, winning titles and breaking records all the way to the podium at Turin.

Answered prayer

Then in February 2008, Cindy abruptly left competition in Europe and rushed home to Winnipeg where her sister Lisa had skidded off a bridge in her SUV and plummeted 15 metres to break through the ice of the Red River below. “The church surrounded us with prayer,” Cindy remembers. The family waited at the hospital day and night while Lisa fought to survive. Lisa not only survived, she made a complete recovery.

“It’s really neat,” Cindy says about how open people are to listen when she talks about her faith. “Especially with Lisa’s accident,…the miracle of answered prayer was the story.”

Today Cindy is again recovering from surgery and trusting God with her future. “My goal is just to make it to the Olympics – just because I had knee surgery last year.” She wants to skate in front of a home crowd.  “To be part of the Olympics in Canada would be an honour.”

Together with the bronze medal she won in the 2002 Winter Olympics in the 3000m, Cindy has won more Olympic medals than any other Canadian athlete – male or female – in any sport. With this kind of record behind her, how does she deal with the expectations Canadians have of her at the upcoming Vancouver Olympics?

“I love the sport. I know that when I’m going out and enjoying it, then the pressure to succeed doesn’t even exist. I’m having so much fun that I don’t worry about outside pressure.”

As she has all along, Cindy trusts God completely with her future. “If I give it my all,” she says, “then the outcome is in God’s hands.”

Don’t let the meekness fool you.

Ingrid Koss is a freelance writer and a member of McIvor MB Church, Winnipeg.

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