Superstar athlete by nature and life. That was the identity I formally held before knowing Christ personally. I grew up in a Christian household in a small town called, Port Elizabeth, located in South Africa. Traditionally, our family attended an Anglican church, a part of the Church of England, where I spent my life learning about God, but never knowing him.
In 2013, my family learned that my father, Darryl, had been diagnosed with cancer. My first instinct was to turn to God to “ my father from the at terrible disease. Reason being, the God I knew was a God who would swoop in and fix our problems when we called His name. Unfortunately, a year later, on the 13th of January 2014, my father passed away, leaving our family without a husband and a father. To me, not only was I fatherless, but I also had an unanswered prayer. I felt betrayed. I was mad at the world because of the loss of my father. But more particularly, I was disappointed and mad with God. I harbored a huge resentment towards God for what He did not do. My father’s death proved to be the most difficult time of my life, ultimately driving me further away from God because I could not "forgive" him. I wanted nothing to do with God, but I never denied that He did not exist.
During every doctor’s visit of my father’s battle with cancer, he would sit down with the Oncologist and inform him of his job. The Oncologist’s job was to keep my dad alive long enough to see his children fulfill their goals: to see my eldest sister, Rayne, receive her Doctorate in Computer Software Security; to see me compete at the Rio Olympic Games; and to see my youngest sister, Hannah, represent South Africa in water polo. These were my father’s dying wishes for his children, which he did not live long enough to see he re on Earth.
The loss of a family member is undoubtedly the most tragic life event that I have ever experienced. It was incredibly painful and tested the way I viewed the world. Upon his passing, my world view and value system changed. No longer was I going to continue living a life that was suppressive to my human nature. Rather, I was going to experience life and all it had to offer. Life is short. Life was meant to be lived, but for who? For the remainder of 2014, I combated the forefronts of giving up school, swimming, and my relationship with God. Midway through the year, I could feel God calling my name. I was in a bad place, mentally and spiritually. But a random friend of mine, who later become my best friend, invited me a youth group. There, I had a lot of fun and grew to experience God, but still did not know Him personally.
It was God’s presence in my life that ultimately placed me where I am today. For during 2014, the opportunity of going to the United States came onto the table. Several college scouts had gotten hold my stats and all wanted me to join their university swim teams. Many offered me 100% full rides. Yet, I ended up rejecting all those offers, and signed with The University of Alabama, who at the time offered me a 60% scholarship. Why was I so stupid? Because I felt so convicted to go to Alabama that even the thought to go to another school made me sick to the stomach. I felt the presence of God on my heart, telling me to go to Alabama to achieve great things, but I thought those great things were in swimming. Foolish me.
A year after my father’s passing, in January 2015, I arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where I began my studies and joined the rapidly improving Crimson Tide Swimming and Diving team. Upon arrival, I was presented with all the “green grass” of college, where I indulged in a lifestyle that proved problematic to my overall wellbeing. Nevertheless, by nature, South Africans are taught to push through the hurt and that is exactly what I did. During the first couple of years at Alabama, I was constantly combating emotional and spiritual troubles that arose as a result of my father’s passing and my own wrongdoing. Truth be told, although coming to United States of America has been the greatest experience of my life, but it has also been the toughest. It is a struggle everyday just to be a foreign student-athlete in the “Deep South”. Nevertheless, I did what I had to do to make it.
2016 was the first Olympic year since my father’s passing. It was going to be the climatic year when I was going to show the world what I was doing for my father. It was supposed to be my year. In April 2016, I arrived back in South Africa and lit a fire. I made a statement with my performance which earned me a right on the Olympic team. But, not only did I make the Olympic team, I placed 10th at the Olympic Games and finished as the fastest African in history at the age of 20. To satisfy your curiosity, all three of my father’s children accomplished his dying wish, where he watched from the best seat in the house, heaven. Two years prior to the Games, the thought of qualifying for the Olympics or even getting close was off the table. Somehow, I achieved the unthinkable in my sport. How did I make such a dramatic improvement? Because I was fueled and driven to achieve my father’s dying wish. My sole identity and purpose in the sport of swimming for two years was to fulfill my father’s wish. I was fueled off my own ambition and interests to make myself feel better about my father’s passing. The problem is, no one is self-sufficient.
Upon reaching the Rio Olympics and competing, I had fulfilled my father’s wish, but not my own. My own wish was to win. I was driven to achieve the highest level of success that not only brought honor and glory to my father, but also to myself. I was desperately chasing success, but not meaning. I had it out of whack. I was self-sufficient and fulfilled in Christopher Reid. Christopher Reid could not bear it anymore, because he was sinking under the weight of trying to be someone who he was not but also someone he was not made to be capable of being.
I believe that when God created us, He created us to be in perfect union with Him, but unfortunately because of one man’s sin, Adam, we are eternally stained by the presence of sin in our lives and that separates us from God. Our sin takes us further away from the person we were designed to be, and instead of ordering our life to find meaning with Jesus Christ at the center, we frantically create our own idols, hoping to find our purpose within this world. Christopher Reid prior to the 2016 Olympic games was not the man God made Christopher to be. He fell short.
Post-Olympic Games, I arrived back in Tuscaloosa to start my junior year of college. There was a harsh reality that I was dealing with—no one cared about me, my swimming, or my father’s wish. From swimming my way to the top of the world, I found myself at the bottom of the ocean, deep in depression. I had the weight of my past on my chest and was searching for a way out. That one thing I knew was that the seas raged daily in my spirit. I was having an identity crisis, because my identity was not in something greater than myself. I was floored with the reality that by myself, I am nothing.
I recognized that by myself, I could never settle the storm that raged within. Only the One whose presence calms the seas can do so. Only the One who knows me personally can answer all my spirit’s desperate pleas. During the fall semester of 2016, God started unraveling the greatest journey of my life, which He continues to this day. He began placing special people in my life which ultimately drew me closer to Jesus. The fruits of the Spirit in my coaches, friends, and a loved one drew me closer to knowing Him personally, which left me wanting to taste His sweet fruit.
The Fall of 2016 marked the beginning of my walk with Jesus. However, it was not until June 2017 that I decided to fully commit my life to Christ and live a life one could call worthy of living. I had the conviction to live a Christ centered life for myself. To be crucified with Christ, so that it was no longer I who lived, but rather Christ. The life I was committing to was to be a life of faith. I had faith that Jesus is Savior, faith that Jesus will provide, and faith that Jesus heals. Finally, my heart was put to rest and was satisfied. The Savior had personally touched my heart and sparked a revival in my spirit.
The revival completely changed my heart from that of a swimmer whose selfish purpose was to swim in water to a heart of a swimmer whose purpose is to share what the Bibles refers to as Living Water- how man’s creative purpose can be found in Christ. My heart now longs to share the testimony of how God used a terrible life event to mold His creation’s heart into a new creation with new things to come under His Kingdom. But first, His creation had to willingly open the doors to his heart and accept Christ for all who He is and what He has done. I had to believe that Jesus Christ did die for my sins, and that He demonstrated that He was God, by rising from the dead, and that He is the only way to be reconciled to God the Father. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” - John 3:3