Olympic luger Christian Niccum shares drift from, return to LDS Church

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12 2014 2:30 p.m. MST

“As members of the LDS Church, we make covenants, we make promises with God,” he said. “That’s what we do at baptism, marriage, we’re making promises. …A lot of people believe in being good, whatever religion they are. They want to help people and they love God. But in the LDS Church, we’re not just saying that’s what we want to do, we’re kind of signing a contract with God that we will do that. … It can be challenging when you’re the only one who’s made this promise.”

Most critical in his inactivity was probably his decision to simply avoid church meetings. He likens it to being an athlete avoiding a workout.

“As an athlete, I don’t just go to one workout and then I’m good,” he said. “I have to work out every single day. It’s a constant process working toward it. That’s the way it is with the gospel — constant work every day.”

But just like his athletic endeavors, doing the small things his commitment to God required of him would eventually pay dividends.

“As you put in that work, it’s a lot easier to make progress and to see the spiritual progress of your life,” he said. “If you stop doing your workouts, you’re going to get fatigued. We believe in daily prayer and daily scripture study. If you stop doing those, things probably aren’t going to work well.”

Coming home

“At some point, I just decided, ‘I’m going to go to church,’ ” Niccum said. “I thought, ‘I don’t have to participate and be in all the way.’ But I felt a need to go.”

Finding his way back wasn’t quick — or easy — but he said he’s felt the difference in every aspect of his life.

“One way to judge this is that I feel so much better, so much more peace, than when I was in my 20s, as I wasn’t living what I believed, what I felt,” he said. “I didn’t feel anywhere near the peace that I feel now and the direction I have now.”

When asked what he thinks made the difference for him, he chokes back emotion.

“With me, I’m a big believer in prayer,” he said. “I believe it’s real, and not just for members of the LDS Church. It’s for everybody. Anybody can talk to God, even if you don’t believe in God. You can still pray. Your feelings, your thoughts — they matter and they mean something.”

And while Niccum may not have been asking God to help him find direction and peace, he said others were seeking on his behalf.

“I believe strongly that we come from a Heavenly Father, who loves us and cares about our well-being,” he said. “I know that my family, well, I know a lot of prayers have been said for me to find my way through the mist.”

It is easy to lose yourself in life’s confusion, but it is also easy to find your way back, he said.

“I’ve always believed there is something more than just this existence here,” he said.

Luge highs and lows

That early athletic success, Niccum learned, would be difficult to sustain.

He went 12 years without a World Cup podium. He went so long between World Cup podiums that the International Luge Federation created a record for the 12-year drought. He made two Olympic teams and struggled through back pain and disappointment.

He was 23rd in the 2006 Games in Italy. In 2010, he competed in the doubles luge and placed sixth with Dan Joye.

One of the things he resents is that people often see his career in luge as something fun and easy.

“People think, ‘Oh you’re traveling to Europe, so luxurious, so exciting, but we’re inside a hotel room, a weight room, at a luge track,” he said. “It’s not a vacation. It’s hard. We love what we’re doing, but it’s a job. It’s not a hobby, and we really don’t get paid.”

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