I’ve been in the sport of professional wakeboarding for over sixteen years. What a ride it’s been! I’ve been blessed to travel the world and, with some hard work, accumulate World, US Masters, US Pro Tour, and X-Game titles. But the highlight of my career hasn’t been the trophies; it’s been the relationships I’ve developed with those in the water sports industry, especially with fellow competitors.
In the world of wakeboarding, it’s no secret that I’m a Christian. My greatest passion is to share God’s love with all I meet and help my peers grow in their love and knowledge of Jesus Christ. I want to make His love known and light a fire in others to know Him too.
You may wonder why I have such a passion about sharing my faith, why I’m eager to help others know God as I am learning to know Him. It’s because He is just so good. His goodness is overwhelming. He gives what no trophy, paycheck, or earthly title can give. He fills His children to overflowing. He’s filled me.
Every day, in good times and bad, I experience peace, hope, joy, love, contentment, and purpose. I want others to have these things for themselves. People don’t have to strive in this world to find their place. They already have a place—it’s in Christ. They don’t have to fight to be recognized and applauded—they are already known by the Creator of this universe, and He is pleased.
I’ve been a Christian since I was a young child, but it wasn’t until I was sixteen years old that I decided to take a public stand for my faith. This commitment started with an interview in Waterski Magazine, where I told the water sports world that I was a believer in Jesus. At that moment, I realized there was no turning back. Making such a public statement meant that I had to be 100 percent committed. No longer could I just go to church and sit on a pew; I had to be a living example of what it means to be a Christian. I wanted to be a voice for God. That decision changed my life.
First, it led me to guard the way I live. Even as a teen, I knew professing to be a Christian would put me under a microscope. People would be watching how I reacted to situations and people. Therefore, I had a responsibility to honor God with my choices. It’s kind of like when you say you’re a vegetarian. Everyone watches to see if you eat meat! I held this responsibility in high regard. I wanted to live in a way that drew people to God, not pushed them away. A life with Jesus is exciting, fulfilling, and purpose-filled. I wanted to show that. I certainly never wanted to lead anyone astray because of a negative word or deed.
I also learned to guard the way I live, because I love God. He gave His best for me, and I want to give my best for Him. I want to honor Him through my actions and live a life that pleases Him. I never want to grieve Him by the way I live.
It hasn’t always been easy to stand strong in my faith, and I surely haven’t been perfect. Even as a Christian, I struggle with internal emotions. For years, I wrestled with people pleasing. I wanted to please everyone—my parents, my brother who was my coach, sponsors, and fans. I lived with a constant feeling that I needed to do something for somebody…anybody. I still struggle! I have to constantly keep my motives in check and ask myself why I am doing what I am doing. I’ve come to realize that I can’t please people and follow God. Galatians 1:10 says, “If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.”
I’ve also struggled with my self-image. Growing up in a bathing suit and seeing myself on television and magazines led to an unhealthy desire to look a certain way. I wanted to be accepted and admired. This led to an eating disorder in my teen years.
Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean you don’t struggle. But we don’t have to be consumed and destroyed by these things. I found freedom from low self-esteem and people pleasing when I found my identity in Christ. That’s why I am so passionate about leading others to Christ. I know what it is like to be enslaved to wrong thinking, and I know what it is like to be free.
Freedom came through studying and applying God’s Word. I maintain that freedom by daily seeking God through His Word. When I got serious about studying the Bible, God taught me so much. The more I saw His goodness, the more my view toward others and myself began to change. He renewed my mind.
God’s Word showed me who I was. I’m not just a wakeboarder clothed in a bathing suit. No. I am a child of God, a daughter of the King, worth everything to Him, even the life of His Son. I am loved, not for anything I’ve done, but simply because I am His child. I am clothed in His righteousness and made in His image. And if you believe, you are too! We can’t get any more special than that.
That’s why I have such a passion. I want people to know who they are and whose they are. I want people to see the value of knowing God and living for Him. It’s worth any sacrifice they may make. God rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
I love the correlation between athleticism and my walk with God. I’ve been an athlete since I was tiny. By the time I was five, my older brother Bart would invite his friends over and challenge them to a pull-up contest against his baby sister. He made a lot of money off me!
I’ve pushed my athletic abilities over the years. I was never satisfied. Even at thirty-three years old, with X-Games and World wakeboard titles to my name, I’m still not satisfied with my level of performance. That’s why I became a competitor on the national television show, America Ninja Warrior, featured on NBC. I wanted a new challenge. Call me crazy, but I love being disciplined…waking up early and training. I love pushing past physical and emotional barriers because that’s when I experience breakthrough. It’s when I experience things I never dreamed possible.
Spiritual progress is achieved the same way. When I discipline myself to read God’s Word and seek His presence daily, even when I don’t feel like it, I go to new levels spiritually. Every day brings a new revelation about the love and character of God. God teaches me things I never dreamed and uses my life in ways I never imagined. That is more exciting than flying across the water on a wakeboard or maneuvering myself like a monkey through an obstacle course.
God’s Word never returns void. It will accomplishes remarkable things in your life. It is life to those who believe.
I wish I could impart all that I’ve learned about the love and character of God. I wish I could give you my passion. It would change your life. But I can’t. There is no substitute for disciplining yourself spiritually. You must get into God’s Word. No one can do it for you. You have to taste God for yourself. But know this: as you commit to seeking Him and learning of Him, you’ll find your hunger and passion growing. You’ll find your life changing. And you’ll understand my passion to make Him known.
Written by Emily Copeland Durham