Active Faith

Olympic Gold Medalist David Wise Has the Right Approach

The thrill-seeking skier knows where to find the perfect landing. by Gail Wood
David Wise and family

David Wise is the only person to ever win an Olympic gold medal in halfpipe skiing, and this year he hopes to earn his third. Before David became an Olympic gold medalist, before he became that famous skier flipping and turning through a halfpipe, he was a youngster looking for an adventure.

Growing up, Wise was a little kid zooming down steep slopes, breaking expensive skis on jumps. To his fretting parents’ concern, he was a risk taker.

“I’m naturally a risk taker at heart,” Wise said. “God made me that way for whatever reason.”

His risk-taking nature—he’s done bungee jumping and sky diving—is a preoccupation. He’s a thrill seeker at heart.

“I’ve always had this obsession, taking things that scare me and overcoming them,” Wise said. “I realized that when I was young, and I did something that scared me, I could reach a point where it no longer scared me. I liked that.”

That’s been a theme his entire life: overcoming scary challenges.

“But now that I am a little bit older, more mature and have kids to think about, I’m not quite as reckless as I used to be,” said Wise, a father of two. “Now I’m more of a calculated risk taker.”

David Wise
David Wise

His risk-taking nature has come with a price.

“I’ve spent a considerable time with injuries,” Wise said. There’s been numerous knee surgeries, a few broken bones and a notable broken femur in 2019.

“But I feel like I’ve got a pretty good guardian angel who is on my team,” Wise said. “I’ve gone through a lot of things that maybe would have hurt me that didn’t. For whatever reason, God put me in this place, and this is His plan.”

And that’s Wise’s insight. Everyone has a talent. Everyone has a God-given skill. One of Wise’s skills is racing down snowy slopes at crazy speeds. After claiming his first national title at age 15, winning a gold medal in the 2014 Winter Olympics in the halfpipe in Russia, winning four X Games titles in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2018 and several World Cup and Grand Prix wins, Wise’s trophy case is full. And, he points out, it’s all in God’s plan.

Wise’s rise to Olympic fame came in part because he had supportive parents. And his spiritual journey was also nurtured by Christian parents.

“I was fortunate enough to grow up in a Christian home,” Wise said. “But I certainly had a time in my life where I had to go out on my own and make sure that I wanted to be a follower of Christ because I wanted to and not because that was what I was taught at a young age.”

Wise’s study of world religions convinced him that Christ was the one and only way. “Seeing Christianity from my family’s perspective and then studying world religion and realizing what a follower of Christ is, that is what I wanted for my own reasons,” Wise said.

David Wise

His faith became a personal experience.

“It has to be personal or else it’s not real,” Wise said. “That’s the most important part. If Christianity was just another world religion, it would just be another example of people trying to earn God’s favor. The reality is Christ chose us because He wants that relationship with us. Discovering that on my own is when I really, truly felt it was my faith.”

That commitment, that go-to-the-altar confession isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a day-to-day walk. 

“We either choose to see it or we choose to drown it out with other things,” Wise said. A Christian’s walk is more than a Sunday morning moment.

“Some days I’ve never felt closer to Christ. And the very next day I wake up and I feel like I’m back in the world,” Wise said. “It’s interesting how you have to continually choose God; you can’t just choose Him once. Not ‘Okay, boom, you made the decision! Now you’re safe forever.’”

It’s a process of constantly becoming more like Christ.

Sometimes we narrow that Christian walk to a list of “don’ts”—don’t drink, don’t smoke, and don’t go with people that do. But there’s also the “do” list—do read the Bible and do pray.

“The older I get and the more mature I get, I discover how important prayer really is,” Wise said. “It’s one thing to seek wisdom, to seek knowledge. It’s a whole different thing to seek a relationship with the Creator. I think that’s where prayer comes in.”

And prayer isn’t supposed to be a one-way conversation.

“It’s not supposed to be just asking for things,” Wise said. “It’s us opening our hearts to Him and opening ourselves to what He has in mind, [and] comparing it to what we have in mind … I can truly say that God’s plan is better than mine.”

Because of his gold medals, because of his thrilling skill on the slopes, Wise is famous. But he’s careful not to become egocentric. He wants to be Christ-centered, not self-centered.

“No medal or trophy changes who you really are … Deep down, I’m still the same goofy kid who fell in love with skiing,” Wise said. “The reality is everything I have is a gift from God – I can’t take credit for any of it. My whole goal in doing what I do is giving glory to God. It’s my act of worship. It’s my way of saying ‘thank you’ for these talents.”

David Wise

Rather than basking in applause, saying “Look at what I can do,” Wise is careful to say thanks and high five God. His prayer is simple.

“Thank you for this opportunity,” Wise says. “Now, let me serve you well.”

With the winter Olympics starting this month, Wise is busy training. The goal is to stand on the awards platform, doing the best he can do. But he’s made an important discovery.

“Life is not about winning,” Wise said.

That’s a realization he bumped into while being a husband and a dad.

“At the end of the day, [my family] never really cares if I’ve won or lost,” Wise said. “They were certainly there to root me on. They wanted me to win. But once the competition is over, I still had to go home. And I still had to change a diaper, and I still had to do what every normal parent does.”

David Wise

Married at 21, David has had his wife, Alexandra, by his side, supporting him throughout most of his skiing career. He also has his daughter Nayeli (11), and son Malachi (8), rooting for him and looking forward to his returns from long trips abroad for training and competitions. 

“Nobody makes more sacrifice than my family,” Wise said. “My wife is missing a husband most of the year and my kids are missing their dad most of the time. I miss out on birthdays. I miss out on soccer games. So, in one way, maybe it’s a motivation for me to really ski at the very best I can when I’m out here and not slack off.”

The joys of being a father and a husband trump it all.

“The world tries to convince you that life is about what you do,” Wise said. “Life is about your job and how much success you have. At the end of the day, it’s not. It’s about the relationships you have.”

It’s about doing the best you can with what you have. “And leaving the rest up to God,” Wise said.

Wise enjoys winning. But it’s not his sole, win-at-all-cost objective. “I don’t run the world here,” Wise said. “He does.” 

Gail Wood lives in Lacey, WA.

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