Stuart Weir interviews three world-class sports players and discovers a common thread in their stories
Kaká: ‘ready for the next journey’
One of the world’s best footballers retired at the end of last year after a glittering career. Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, known as Kaká, announced his retirement in English and Portugese to his 30 million fans on Twitter. ‘Father, It was much more than I could ever imagined. Thank you! I’m now ready for the next journey. In Jesus name. Amen.’
The 35-year-old Brazilian had played for AC Milan in Italy and Real Madrid in Spain. He has won the Italian and Spanish leagues, the Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup. The goal-scoring midfielder played 92 times for Brazil scoring 29 goals. He played in three World Cups including 2002 when Brazil were World Cup winners. In 2007 he was awarded the FIFA World Player of the Year, and has also been awarded the Ballon d’Or, and the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year. His last club was Orlando City in the USA and he ended his career there at the end of last year. Off the field Kaká is known for his humanitarian work. In 2004 he became the youngest ambassador of the UN World Food Programme.
Kaká grew up in a Christian family and decided to make his parents’ faith his own. ‘Little by little, I stopped simply hearing people talk about the Jesus my parents taught me and wanted to live my own experiences with God. One of these experiences was when I was baptized at the age of 12. This was a very important step in my walk with Jesus and soon after many things began to happen in my life where I could experience God in a real way.’
He explained how believing in Jesus changes his outlook: ‘The difference Jesus makes in my life is that I know that I will always have victory, I will always have joy, and I will always have success. This is independent of the situations I face, because I know that in the end, there will be greater victory. This brings me great peace, serenity, tranquillity and happiness because I am sure that Jesus is in control of my life. I know that he is like a Father who doesn’t want anything bad for his child and he only wants the best for me and those around me, including my family.
We all need a Saviour. Jesus is the one and only Saviour, according to the Bible. We need him in our lives.’
Langer’s Easter triumph
Bernhard Langer was once the Number 1 ranked golfer in the world. He is currently the number 1 player in Seniors’ (50+) golf. One of his most memorable wins was his second US Masters title. The tournament ended on Easter Sunday, which Langer acknowledged in his victory speech saying: ‘It’s a great honour to win the greatest tournament in the world, and especially on Easter Sunday, the day my Lord was resurrected.
He continued, explaining the significance of Easter for him: ‘Some people may not understand that, but it was very meaningful for me as a believer to have won on the day that we celebrate that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. You see, I strongly believe that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened. There were about 500 eye-witnesses who saw him alive again. I believe that it takes more faith not to believe in Jesus Christ than to believe in him.’
Langer was once asked why as a successful golfer he still needed God. He replied: ‘I realised when I was about 28 years old and I had basically achieved almost everything that I wanted to and dreamed of. I realised that material things don’t make you happy and that there must be more in this life than just accumulating money in the bank or cars, houses or whatever. You just want more, more, more and are never satisfied. Through a Bible study for golfers, I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal saviour and that made all the difference.’
He continued, throwing out a challenge to the questioners: ‘Get yourself a Bible and look into it yourself and find out whether Jesus Christ really lived, whether there is a God or if there is any alternative. I think that many will come to the conclusion that there is a God – there is a creator. If there is a God and the Bible is his word, we ought to read it and learn about him and be what he wants us to be.
‘Every day we have to make many decisions, but the most important decision we’ll ever make is who we believe Jesus is. We either accept him or reject him. Jesus himself said that we are either for him or against him. There’s no in-between.’
Jamaica’s ‘Pocket Rocket’
Nicknamed the Pocket Rocket, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce has been the dominant woman sprinter in the world over the past 10 years. The 5ft tall Jamaican sprinter won gold in the 100 metres in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and also came top in the 100 metres World Championships in 2009, 2013 and 2015.
She said of her 2012 London Olympic win: ‘It’s completely different to Beijing  because there I was inexperienced. I was young and I never believed I could win. This time I was a bit nervous but I believed in God and I trusted him to carry me through.’
Despite her amazing achievements, Shelly-Ann never seems to get the recognition she deserves. Asked if she is recognised when she goes out she replied ‘I go to the supermarket and people recognise me … and they want to ask me about Usain Bolt!’
She has had a Christian faith most of her life but in her own words, ‘went away from the church’ in her teens but is now back in the fold. She is clear about the difference her faith makes: ‘Believing in the God I believe in has worked miracles in my life. I know God for myself so I am able to say “Thank God” because I know who he is and I know what he has done in me and through me. So my faith is very important and at the forefront of everything I do. I believe that everything I have, every gift I have is from him and he has given it to me for a reason. The purpose he has given me has shown me how to live and how to experience life differently. It motivates me and directs my life.’
To deal with her nerves while waiting for the starter to call her to her blocks, she repeats Bible verses. She confesses to being a bit afraid before big races so she repeats to herself a Bible verse written by the Apostle Paul, one of Jesus’ followers, to a younger Christian called Timothy: ‘For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.’ Another favourite verse was written by one of Jesus’ close friends, the Apostle John, an eye-witness to Jesus’ life: ‘the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world’. She says it reminds her that if God is in control, then she has no reason to be afraid
Shelly-Ann is currently taking a career break after giving birth to a son, Zyon, in August 2017.