Jeremy C. Holm is a guest writer to Meridian Magazine. He is a bobsledder, coach, motivational speaker, and author.
A lot of things can go through you mind once you reach 80.
I could think of my baptism or the time I used my baseball arm to throw a mud ball at a passing delivery truck (which made a satisfying thud upon hitting the roof). I could remember my favorite Christmas and that one vacation to Disneyland or all the times we had to rush to our central Oklahoma hallway because a tornado was nearby. There was my first kiss, the day I received my mission call to Honduras, or the afternoon I came to know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.
When your life flashes before your eyes, you may see a lot such events. But when I hit 80, the only thing I was looking at was ice. And it was moving fast; eighty miles an hour-fast, to be exact. I was upside down in a four-man bobsled with my head three inches from the frozen surface rushing past….and it was entirely my fault.
WELCOME TO BOBSLED
I believe that the Lord has a sense of humor. How else could a Pennsylvania-born, Oklahoma-raised , roller coaster-hating teen end up in one of the most exciting, fast-paced winter sports on the planet? I could barely drive a car, yet in 1997 I was learning to race bobsleds down multi-million dollar tracks my sophomore year at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City, Utah.
My first sled ride was a blur. My dad sat in front of me and I tried to peak over his and the driver’s shoulder, all while 5 G’s, or five times the force of gravity, pushed my head from side to side like it was a ping pong ball. It was intensely loud and fast, yet by the end of our trip I was hooked.
It’s hard to explain what it feels like to pilot a bobsled down a course at full speed. Flying a fighter jet may possess close proximity, but even then you don’t get a full sense of the thrill of it all. The roar of the sled going through a turn, the pressure in your chest as you hit 5+ G’s from centrifugal force and of course it is hard to top the feeling of standing on the medal’s podium while the National Anthem plays. There’s the camaraderie, the challenge of finding funding, the underlying competitive natures, pushing yourself to your physical, mental and emotional limits and so much more.
I could have been thinking of all that when I was upside down as the ice raced past …but I wasn’t. I was thinking about my teammates in the back and how this crash was entirely my fault.
That’s German for “overthrown” but in bobsled it means exactly what I was facing: “sled over”, or a crash on the track. It is not an uncommon, yet like most of our trials in life we do not go looking for the experience.
Lehi testified to his son Jacob that, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25). Bobsled, my mission, college, my family and my Church membership all brought such joy. But mortal life is replete with challenges and heartaches, which we all know too well.
I have battled anxiety and depression in my life, as well as a period of church inactivity and several stumbles along the way towards that Celestial finish line. I have been gestürzt by the Adversary more than once and I am deeply grateful that the joy we are here to obtain can be ours again through repentance and the Savior’s Atonement!
As I watched the ice race past, I realized that my bare-skinned thumbs were half an inch from the icy surface (sometimes find ourselves far too close to sin’s danger in our lives, don’t we?). I quickly pulled them under the cowl and shifted my body so my shoulder was no longer rubbing on the ice (which can lead to nasty “ice burns”). I impatiently waited for the sled to come to a stop three turns later in what was appropriately the lowest point on the track. Consequently, when I adjusted my body’s position my shoulder now sat on top of my Number Two guy’s hand, thus breaking a bone in the process. Sorry, Don!
The run had been perfect up to that point with a fast push and load at the top of the track and good, clean driving on my part…until Turn Eleven when I was mere inches too high and the sled rolled right over. When we finally came to a stop, I heard voices shouting, asking if we were ok. God bless those EMTs and track workers who take such pride in taking care of us daredevil athletes (a symbolic reminder of our beloved Church leaders who do the same for us as members).
I could hear my teammates moving out the back of the sled, but since we were wedged up against the track wall and because I have a backrest behind me as the pilot, I could not get myself out. No matter how I tried to contort my body, I was stuck. All I could do was reach one hand up towards the light of the blue sky and someone grasped it and pulled me free of my predicament.
THE ONLY NAME THAT MATTERS
Since that day I have published two books, was the head coach for the U.S. Adaptive Bobsled Team, have spoken all over the map, and experienced many wonders (and adversities) in life. I have felt the tender mercies of the Lord in ways I cannot express and also experienced dark nights full of tears and prayers. Yet that one crash has stuck with me, not because it was a terrible one, but because it represented so much of the Gospel’s meaning and its path.
Like a bobsled track, life is filled with exhilaration and pains, joys and disappointments. We face fears as athletes (and Latter-day Saints) and live by faith, even if we call it hope and motivation in sport. We make choices that lift us higher through victory and some that bring the bitterness of loss and regret.
But on the day of that particular crash, as I ponder reaching my hand up towards the light and of that strong, caring individual who clasped it in their own and pulled me to safety, I cannot help but think of the scarred, sacred hands of our Savior, even Jesus Christ, who has so lovingly and so quickly runs to my aid when I find myself in a gestürtz situation in this mortal life. I have had some wonderful teammates and some incredible coaches, but none were ever as faithful as He.
As the sled pilot, the crash I’ve been telling you about was my fault, just like every one of my sins and many of my trials have been and I needed to mend the situation. Two of my teammates ended up with minor injuries, yet they were absolutely ready to get back on the track as soon as possible. Our borrowed sled, however, was in pretty bad shape and she was going to need serious work and repair (have you ever felt that way about your own life?).
Thankfully, my father stepped forward to help me fix the results of my driving mistake. With his engineering skills we were able to restore the fiberglass and weld up the broken frame. I can’t help but smile and think of Psalm 60:2, which reads, “You have broken it; Heal its breaches, for it is shaking.”
When I look back on my life, now that I am in my mid-thirties, I cannot help but see similarities between my father’s loving aid and all the times my Heavenly Father blessed me with guidance, forgiveness and healing that allowed me to overcome and move forward. And the Lord, above all, has been the best guide, supporter, teacher and friend I have had in life, on and off the ice.
By His selfless example, I have learned that it isn’t about the name on the back of the jersey (or even on the front, for that matter). What really makes a difference is the name written on our hearts.
A FAITHFUL FRIEND, A CELESTIAL GLORY
Only He, through His atoning power, has taken the broken pieces of my life and made them into something beautiful, wonderful and whole. Only He, in incomparable love, has walked with me through my wins and my losses in life. Only He has stood by me when I have been on my A-Game and when I was emotionally and spiritually starved and hungry enough to gaze longingly at “the husks that the swine (do) eat…” (Luke 15:16).
Only He has guided me on the ice, walked with me in my ministries, cried when I cried and cheered me every step of the way. Only He has blessed me with strength to grow, patience to endure and peace to smile during the storm. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “He knows the way because He is the way.” (“Broken Things to Mend”, Ensign, April 2006)
I learned that it isn’t about the medals on the wall, but the glory we bring to His name. It isn’t about speaking to thousands unless I motivate them to hope and progress. At the end of the day, no matter how “famous” the world thinks you are, no parade, title or mortal honor could ever compare to hearing Him say those sweet and blessed words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Mathew 25:21).
Jeremy C. Holm is a renowned author, motivational and fireside speaker, bobsled athlete and coach, journalist, graphic designer and advertising consultant. Born in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, Jeremy grew up playing soccer and baseball in Edmond, Oklahoma before beginning bobsled in January of 1997 on the Park City, Utah 2002 Olympic track. He went on to train and race in both two- and four-man bobsled. In 2009 Jeremy was asked to coach the United States Adaptive Bobsled Team, thus allowing him to develop a program that contained some of the first Paralympic bobsled athletes in the world.
Jeremy served in the San Pedro Sula, Honduras Mission before attending Brigham Young University (BYU) and Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) where he graduated in Print Journalism. In 2008 Jeremy formed The Athlete Outreach Project (AOP), an organization designed to use the influence of Olympic and world-class athletes and hopefuls to inspire others, serve in the community, spread hope and assist non-profit organizations in their causes. He is the author of Fire and Ice: Gospel Lessons Learned Through a Lifetime of Sport and The Champion’s Way: 12 Winning Principles for A Gold-Medal Life.
Jeremy currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah and is a member of the Willow Creek 1st Ward.
For more information or fireside and speaking requests, please visit www.JeremyCHolm.com.