By Lindsay Steele
American pairs figure skaters Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim helped Team USA to an Olympic bronze medal in the team figure skating event in Pyeongchang, South Korea, earlier this week. I’ve followed the married pairs figure skaters on Twitter for a few years now, as I enjoy following the sport of figure skating.
If you aren’t familiar with these two, they went through a scary ordeal a couple years ago during which Alexa had painful vomiting episodes that confounded most doctors. The condition she refers to as “a series of binding internal issues” made it impossible for Alexa to get out of bed some days, let alone train. The Knierims were terrified for Alexa’s health and her future, not just on the ice but in general.
She now bears a large, vertical scar on her abdomen from the surgery that got her on the path to healing. She and Chris also have newfound strength in their Christian faith. Alexa has said, “When my body was at my weakest, my faith was at its strongest.”
At the national championships in January — the competition that helps determine who will go to the Olympics – the Knierims made a few jumping errors in the program. Based on the strength of their other elements — which included a rare quad twist — and the quality of their overall performance, they won the competition and a ticket to Pyeongchang. Although they do struggle with consistency in their jumps at times, as most pairs teams do, the Knierims have been the strongest American pairs team for the past four years. So their Olympic berth was not a surprise.
Still, upon seeing the scores and learning they’d won the competition, Alexa broke down in tears. Typically bubbly in interviews, she was at a loss for words when NBC reporter Andrea Joyce approached her for her thoughts. Eventually, she looked up and said, simply, “God is good.”
Meanwhile, on Twitter, one of my favorite bloggers responded with his typical acerbic wit — which I usually find entertaining. But this time, he chose to mock Alexa’s public declaration of faith. For once, I wasn’t laughing. “God is good. Our jumps have not improved at all and we are going to the Olympics,” the blogger said. I saw others respond in like to his post, mocking Alexa by saying things like “oh, the devil must be in their jumps.”
The comments made me very sad. Athletes open themselves up to criticism for what they do on the playing field, but I don’t believe faith should be fair game for critique.
Even though I figured it wouldn’t matter to her, I messaged Alexa to let her know how I felt. I was compelled to tell her that I supported her decision to be open about her Christian faith, and that I didn’t condone people mocking it.
I was surprised to wake up the next day to see that she had posted my message on her Twitter wall along with a message of her own, for all her followers to see: “I have had many people mock my faith after being public about it, but I’ve also had way more people support me for being open about it. Stay true to what you believe!”
I think criticism is something that all people of faith have had to deal with at some point. Whether or not we are public figures, we are at risk of receiving criticism when we open up about our faith. It may come at the risk of losing our life, or losing a friend. But we can’t inspire others if we don’t take that risk.
It takes a lot of strength to perform a quad twist, a kind of strength that few people on earth have. But it also takes a lot of strength to be open about faith, and that’s a strength all of us can strive for.
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)