During his remarkable career as a Greco-Roman athlete, Jim Gruenwald managed to become a two-time Olympian and one of the unquestioned leaders of the US National program. He was an elite international competitor who was uncompromising and vicious on the mat; yet filled with a love for Christ and a willingness to passionately share his faith off of it. Today, he is the head coach at Wheaton College in Illinois, as well as a highly-influential voice pertaining to all matters of encouragement, devotion, and Christian servitude.
In case you might not have known, I am a huge superhero movie nerd. And one scene in particular that has strongly resonated with me occurred towards the end of Avengers: Infinity War.
It is a climactic moment. Captain America catches the left hand of Thanos, the very hand donning the “Infinity Gauntlet” — and stops him. Captain America, Steve Rogers, stopped one of the most powerful villains in the entire MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). The effort this act required was amazing, unbelievable, and took every ounce, every drop of blood, of who Steve Rogers was just to halt that one hand. The incredulous look on Thanos’ face lasts for less than a second before he engages his second fist and jackhammers a punch that leaves Captain America senseless and lying unconscious on the ground. Maybe even in the ground.
Throughout my wrestling career, I made it a point to wrestle bigger guys. Stronger guys. There were times when no one wanted to wrestle Rulon Gardner, the 2000 Olympic Champion heavyweight. But I would. Rulon would push me all over the mat; and any time I tried to dig in and resist, he would level me much the same way Thanos leveled Captain America. Now, I was extremely strong for my own weight class, and would at times even entertain the delusion of being the strongest human ever. Except, there were guys who were stronger. Guys like Dennis Hall and Tom Brands were able to steamroll me during matches. Whenever I resisted, they would dump me on my head.
After losing matches to Hall for 11 consecutive years, I finally learned a much-needed lesson: to ride the wave.
A common theme in all martial arts, including wrestling, is to use your opponent’s power against them. When dealing with a more powerful opponent, it is not wise to stubbornly dig in and attempt to match their power. Instead, the smarter course of action is to move fluidly from side to side and create angles, all while still remaining engaged. To ride the wave.
Think surfing. A surfer does not try to control the wave. Because, they can’t. He or she simply rides the wave. Eventually, the wave loses power and laps gently against the shore. I learned to ride the wave of Dennis’ power until it dissipated. The result was the end of an 11-year-losing streak. After that, I made the next five World/Olympic Teams from 2000-’04.
Life is not different. Sin, fear, failure, losses, longings, and even success, can be overwhelming. Yet — 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises us that God will provide a way out, regardless of the temptation. Philippians 4:13 grants us the secret to life, the way how to handle the high’s and low’s while also avoiding arrogance and despair — “I can handle all things through Him who gives me power.“
There are times when the waves of life and sin are so powerful, standing up on the board and trying to ride seems like an impossibility. It is in those moments when we must cling to the Cross and hold on dearly to He who is immovable. Hold on to Christ through the storms. You will learn that, eventually, all storms pass. But His faithfulness endures.
If you would like to follow up with Coach Gruenwald regarding faith development, or if you are someone who is searching, or just someone who is looking for help navigating life, he can be reached directly via email.
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