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.
One of the key components of coaching is capturing the heart. Many coaches mistakenly resort to temporary motivational techniques. Some bad — such as pain, shame, abuse, threats, yelling, etc. And, some good — like for example, a movie clip or a rousing speech, music or kind words. But unfortunately, even the best motivational methods yield only temporary results.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying that motivation has no value; however, the value as compared to inspiration is insignificant. Motivation is for the moment. How many movies have given us visions of grandeur after hearing a stirring oration? “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take…our FREEDOM!” Mel Gibson famously roared in the film Braveheart. Most athletes pick up the pace a bit upon hearing the Rocky soundtrack or a similar score. But again, the impetus fades once the music or the speech ends. How long does that take? A month, a week, a day, an hour? A minute? I’ve seen athletes take just two extra steps and lose all of the momentum their coaches were sincerely trying to provide.
So, what of inspiration? And by inspiration, I am not writing of the pseudo-inspirational moments stemming from a “heroic” effort on the part of an individual in a particular instant. Inspiration is more than a snapshot of a grandiose moment, which is just a repackaged form of motivation. Instead, inspiration is derived and achieved from the lifelong commitment and sacrifice responsible for making the big motivational moments possible. One of my greatest examples and sources of inspiration came from a single mother, my mother, who worked 60-80 hours a week for years to provide for her two sons. Could I outwork, out-sacrifice my mother when training and competing?
And as wonderful a source of inspiration my mother was, a greater source existed for me.
In some of my most grueling training sessions, what was it that drove me and made me strain harder than my opponents? The inspiration had only one source — CHRIST. No wrestler ever suffered in practice as Christ did on His way to the cross. Another rep. No wrestling match has ever been as severe as what Christ bore on the cross. Muscles exhausted, lungs burning, keep attacking. Our trials and tribulations pale in comparison to what Christ endured on His last day.
The result for me was a more committed wrestler, student, father, husband, and coach. I won National titles, Pan-Am titles, and a World Cup title. Perhaps that may motivate someone to want the same, or more. I always hope that my 16 years of brutal training at the Olympic-level will serve as a source of inspiration that will drive the younger generation to bigger moments — and ultimately to Christ, who was my greatest source of motivation.