American Bobsledder Has Golden Dream
Q & A with Olympian Steve Langton
By Trent Beattie
American bobsledder Steve Langton believes God has a plan for him. This faith enables the 30-year-old Boston native to endure countless hours of training in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The games, which take place in Sochi, Russia, will be his second—and perhaps his last—Olympic adventure.
Langton has achieved nearly everything that can he achieved in his sport, including 13 World Cup medals (four gold, six silver, and three bronze). The only thing that has eluded him thus far is an Olympic medal. The former NCAA track-and-field competitor hopes to change this in Sochi.
A business major at Northeastern University from 2002–2006, Langton knows that any reward will be preceded by an investment of talent. He spoke to Catholic Digest about his golden hopes in light of his faith in God’s plan for his life.
Q. What are your expectations going into the Olympics?
I hope that all my work and that of my teammates will come to fruition. At this level of competition, a lot of work is necessary, so you really hope it will be capped off by a tangible reward, hopefully a golden one. Whenever you see an athlete or a team on the medal stand, you can be certain that there have been many, many hours of preparation.
Q. What are your top sports memories from childhood?
I’m the oldest of three boys, so there are many memories of us playing various sports with our father. Since we grew up in Boston, we also watched a lot of Red Sox games. They had some good teams throughout the 80s and 90s, but it wasn’t until I was a little older that they won the World Series. Those victories were in 2004 and 2007.
Even more than baseball, though, I was a huge track-and-field fan. I followed American sprinter Maurice Greene. His winning the 100-meter sprint at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, was a very memorable moment for me and my family. I was 17 years old at the time, and I was inspired to be a better sprinter myself.
I’ve been prenamed to the national bobsledding team, and my younger brother Chris might make the team as well. If we end up competing in bobsled events together, there will surely be some great memories. It’s not often that brothers are on the same team like that.
It’s easy to remain close to my brother Chris, since we train together, but I also continue to be close my other brother, Sean, and to my parents as well. In fact, I talk with both my mother and father every day. They are my biggest supporters.
Q. Were you able to connect your faith with sports as you grew up?
In sports like baseball or football, you can compensate for a lack of natural speed, strength, or jumping ability. However, in track-and-field, that’s not the case. You really need a good amount of natural ability to be able to compete at all. This makes it easier for you to realize that the talent you have comes from God, to the point that the connection becomes obvious.
Once you recognize the connection, you have to take what you’ve been given and put it to good use. In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, it’s made extremely clear that everyone is called to “invest” their talents and get more out of them. God wants us to use what he has given us to expand our horizons, but even more importantly to glorify him.
Q. Did you come from a devout family?
My brothers and I grew up always attending Mass on Sundays with our parents. We went to St. Mary of the Annunciation School in Melrose, Massachusetts, and then to St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Massachusetts.
St. John’s is an all-boys school, and I think that helped us to be better students and better athletes because we were focused on business. I’ve found that same concept to be true in bobsledding as well. It’s a sport with a lot of travel, so having a meaningful relationship or being married is very difficult. I’m putting that on hold until after the Olympics, when I’ll decide whether to go for competing in another Olympics or not.
Q. How did you get started in bobsledding?
Throughout high school I was very much into running the 100- and 200-meter races. I enjoyed doing that, and I was even good enough to compete at Northeastern University in track-and-field. I was inspired watching the Olympics on TV with my family, but I knew that if I ever wanted to be a competitor, I’d probably have to find a different sport.
I’m the ideal height (6' 3") and weight (235 pounds) for bobsledding, so that’s what I ended up doing. Bobsledding is a very specialized sport, so most parts of the country don’t have it available. However, I was fortunate that the Northeast was one of those places that did. I began competing in 2007 and have been doing so ever since.
Q. Did your faith ever get your through a difficult time?
Within 12 months of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I had to have surgery on both my hip and my knee. I had really hoped to make the team, but two major surgeries made that look downright impossible. Despite the difficulty, I was still determined to give it my best shot.
I did what I could each day, gradually building up my strength. Amazingly, I was able to make the 2010 team. I was a little disappointed with our results once there, but the fact that I made the team at all was miraculous. In a tough and oftentimes dangerous sport like bobsledding, it’s easy to be aware of the role that God has in things.
Q. What are some of your favorite things about the Church?
I really enjoy going to Mass on Sundays because it’s a way to press the “reset” button for the week and strengthen your relationship with God. Whatever your specific concerns are, you can take them to God and let him handle them. You’re able to put aside all the happenings of the previous week and really focus on the things that matter most. Because of this, I always leave Sunday Mass feeling better.
I think being a practicing Catholic makes me a better athlete, because I see that, despite any setbacks, God always has a plan for my life. That fundamental belief about using one’s talents wisely is accompanied by a trust in God’s plan. Everyone runs into problems, but what you do with those problems is what matters. Faith in God through adversity enables you to draw closer to him.
Prayer is essential for a relationship with God. I pray in the morning and evening, and also prior to competition. I also pray informally at various points of the day, and I often use a rosary bracelet to pray at least a decade.
Q. Do you have an overall philosophy of sports?
A lot of people try to come up with revolutionary training methods, but I think they’re mostly unhelpful. You can tweak a few things here and there, but in the final analysis, there are only so many ways to train. If you focus on the basics and do those really, really well, then you’re on the right path.
What is true with training methods is also true with the mindset you have, whether it’s for sports or anything else. Instead of getting caught up in extraneous details or reinventing the wheel, it’s better to stick to the basics. In reference to life in general, it’s best to simply do what Jesus commands us to do. In John 14:15 he said, “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.”
Most of the time, it’s easy to know what the right thing to do is, but the difficult part is actually doing it. That’s why prayer is so important, because through praying we receive the love of God we need in order to do the things we ought to do. Prayer unites us with Christ, and we become empowered to do whatever we’re called to do. This is why Philippians 4:3 is one of my favorite passages, as it is for many other athletes: “I can do all things in [Christ] who strengthens me.”
God has a plan for each of us, but it’s up to us to work with him on it. He expects us to invest what he has given us, and then we will see better where he wants us to go. God initiates things, but we need to respond. I hope that by preparing as well as I can, things will come out golden, but whatever happens, it’s all about glorifying him.