Locked Down - But Not Out
Locked Down - But Not Out

2022 has seen a return to normality on many fronts after the Covid-19 pandemic. This is true student sport as well, but in 2021 student sport was hugely disrupted. University sport is played predominantly in the winter months, so those with competition seasons in the late winter and early spring had two entire seasons disrupted, particularly those who compete in indoor sports.

Natalya is a Medical and Sport Science student at the University of Exeter; she’s also a double min trampolinist. In March 2020 her university league season was drawing to a close and the national team qualifiers were on the horizon when a busy schedule of study and competing gave way to lockdown, uncertainty, and certainly no indoor sport.

We sat down with Natalya to find out how she was able to be a Christian in sport, even when her sport stopped.

What does it feel like not being able to train or compete?

"I found myself in a tough situation: GB and under 18-year old athletes were still able to train, but there was little provision for me as a national level athlete in an adult age group. The university scene wasn’t much better, all indoor sport was cancelled for the entire academic year of 2020/21; the sports hall was even turned into a Covid-19 test centre. Going from knocking on the door of international representation to only being able to train once a week was a tough reality to face! The story was similar for many friends in the university Christians in Sport group, however there were some great encouragements despite the challenges. We held a joint social with the group at Durham, sharing stories of the struggles we were facing and encouraging each other to look to Christ for hope. We felt really encouraged by the fact that there were other Christians around the country facing the same challenges. New Year Training, Christians in Sport’s student conference, was also held online, and was a huge boost for me whilst university training was still cancelled."

What's it been like starting to compete again?

"Returning to competition has been a real test for me, especially as my sport is very technically challenging. To pull off routines I need to be physically fit as well as having a high level of confidence, it’s impossible to perform well if any of the moves still feel scary! I knew I’d be at a lower level than I was pre-pandemic, but, in our university group we were discussing how the Bible shows that ability doesn’t define us. Time spent in God’s Word has really strengthened my faith, enabling me to enjoy sport more fully now I’m back competing! Previously it was difficult for me to connect my head to my heart, I saw competing as a distraction from my faith, but the Christians in Sport group at university has really encouraged me to see how sport fits with my faith, and how sport can be a means to worship God!"

"I knew I’d be at a lower level than I was pre-pandemic, but, in our university group we were discussing how the Bible shows that ability doesn’t define us."

How did this support help you to live out your faith while you weren't able to train or compete?

"Reading the Bible with the university Christians in Sport group really helped me think through how I can share my faith with others, even if it seems scary to speak about Jesus. At times over that last year it has felt like an uphill battle to share my faith at all! Despite my fears, I felt encouraged to try to share Jesus with whoever I had the opportunity to, not just in the world of sport! Whilst time with teammates became limited, there was plenty of opportunity to talk about Jesus with my housemates, especially as we spent a lot more time together during lockdowns. Some even came along with me to events put on by our Christian Union in February, and since then one of them has professed faith in Christ for the first time and joined a church, which is truly amazing!"

How did you find sharing your faith during this period?

"Being a trampolinist with little opportunity to get on a trampoline was tough, as was trying to think about witnessing to my teammates. I’d often think to myself "what teammates?!" Two friends from trampolining had just started exploring faith and church, but went home when the first lockdown hit, and it became hard to connect meaningfully with them. The second lockdown only served to make sharing Jesus with teammates even more discouraging, with training cancelled just as relationships were starting to be rekindled."

What has God been teaching you over the last year?

"I used to think sport distracted me from faith, but Christ has become my stronghold. I know that God cares deeply about my sport, and meeting with other Christian sportspeople all through lockdown to read the Bible has really helped me figure this out! Trampolining competitions did not return until long after many other sports were in full swing, for me, God’s work in my life during this period meant that I could step back into competing with renewed perspective. My first competition back didn’t go well, I didn’t perform how I’d expected to. Despite the frustration of a poor performance, I’m thankful for the fact that, by God’s grace, my worth does not depend on performance. When I feel worried about my performance, or how I’m going to get back to the level I was at, I know that I can hand these fears over to Jesus. I know that He died to save me, and my certain hope of eternity with Christ is secure regardless of the outcome of my competitions!"

"I used to think sport distracted me from faith, but Christ has become my stronghold. I know that God cares deeply about my sport."

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