The day I went to prison, my old, broken foot just might have helped heal some broken hearts.

I never would have imagined myself going to prison, but my dear, crazy friend Kristi kept asking me to join her. She assured me that visiting inmates would change my life and the lives of others.

I had signed up a few times to go with her, but life always seemed to get in the way. Finally, I told myself I should live up to my commitment and go at least once. I’m so glad I did! I almost missed God knocking on my door, inviting me to be a part of what He was doing behind prison walls.

We arrived early that morning to go through security. I was wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into. It took four hours for prison officials to complete their search of our team and equipment, but finally we were allowed through the prison gates. Who knew it was so hard to get into prison?

We drove onto the big, empty prison yard, and the ministry team of Inmate Encounter, the host of the event and a partner with KOJ Ministries, began to set up. The sound system, stage, high wire equipment, motorcycles, and Kristi’s ski boat were displayed in an organized fashion. Then the guards let the prisoners through the gate. A sea of men, all dressed in light blue, flooded the space like water. I should have been terrified…but I wasn’t. I was calm and full of peace.

I found myself reaching out naturally to shake hands, welcoming the men to our outreach.

I was overcome by the realization that, although many of these men were drug dealers, thieves, and murderers, they were still all fellow humans who desperately needed hope and the power to change.

They were God’s children; He loved them and offered them the same forgiveness He’d given me. Romans 3:23 says we have all sinned and fallen short of the honor and glory of God. That made me their equal in this matter.

As I looked into their faces, I thought, “I have a gift I could give them that would change their lives forever. Am I willing to get out of my comfort zone and give it to them?” The answer was yes. Immediately God’s Word came to me, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). There is no other commandment greater than this. Hour after hour, I poured out all the unconditional love God had put in my heart for these men.

I went to the prison that day thinking I would be a silent observer. I wasn’t sure what I had to give. I wasn’t a seasoned speaker or performer, nor was I experienced in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sharing openly about my faith was really outside my comfort zone. But then John Lance, our leader for the day, spoke these words over the microphone in his southern twang, “Hey, Stretch, come on up here and tell us your story.” (He calls me Stretch because I’m six feet tall.)

I was shocked and terrified. I had no idea what I could possibly say that could help these men. But with several hundred people looking at me, all wanting a hope of a better future, I knew I had to say something. I took a minute and looked down to gather my thoughts. It was then that I saw my left foot, and suddenly God gave me the words to speak.

So what does my left foot have to do with anything? Let me explain.

I grew up in West Virginia and learned to water-ski on the Ohio River at the age of five. By the time I was twenty, I was skiing professionally on the Coors Light Water Ski Tour and appearing regularly on ESPN. I’ve had a great career that included three world records, over thirty professional victories, sixty podium finishes, and I’ve been inducted into the USA Water Ski Hall of Fame. I also played college basketball at Georgia Tech. I was pretty much born to be an athlete.

In 1998, I was having my best season ever, leading the World Cup series with one event to go. Prior to the tour finals, I was competing at another event in New York when my ski broke in half. I crashed so violently that my left foot was nearly broken off. I shattered the tibia and fibula. Soft tissue was the only thing keeping my leg attached to my body.