Olympic luger Christian Niccum shares drift from, return to LDS Church
Niccum has made massive financial sacrifices to pursue his luge dreams through three Olympic cycles. Through most of his adult life, he has relied on the kindness and generosity of other people — most of the time, his parents and extended family.
Right now, his family of five lives in the home where he grew up with his parents. They drive a very used car, and his wife and children did not make the trip to Sochi to see him compete because they can’t afford their own apartment, let alone air, hotel and travel expenses.
In just the past four years, Niccum has had back surgery, a ruptured Achilles tendon (suffered while playing in a church basketball league) and the premature birth of his youngest daughter, EmmaJo. Through it all, he said, it’s his love of the gospel and his family that have sustained him.
In fact, he was ready to retire, but his wife encouraged him to give his dream one more shot.
“I wasn’t going to continue, because I love my family,” he said. “After the 2010 Olympics, I met a volunteer doctor who happened to be a surgeon in L.A. I’ve had struggles with my back since I was 17 years old.”
The doctor felt strongly that Niccum shouldn’t “leave the sport crippled.”
Niccum had the surgery and said his back has never felt better.
The final leg of his Olympic journey
Just earning a trip to Russia was challenging. Niccum had to race against his teammates for the final spot on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team in Park City in December. Just before his final run, he watched a video his wife sent him. It was EmmaJo taking her first steps.
The love of his family, as well as their sacrifices on his behalf, inspired him. He and his partner, Jayson Terdiman, went to the track and won their spot on the 2014 team.
A family man first
Niccum met his wife when he was working in a nursing home in Texas. Their first date was a blind date, but the two ended up getting married in 2008.
When they met, Niccum had returned to church, and Bobbi Jo joined him. A native Texan, Bobbi Jo grew up Baptist but had spent her adult life worshiping as a Pentecostal.
She didn’t balk at going to Niccum’s Mormon ward when they started dating, and in fact, he said people often said they had no idea she wasn’t LDS.
“She liked it,” he said, indicating this part of the story is probably better told by her. “She was in a Sunday School class, and they were talking about what happens after this life, where we go.”
One aspect of the lesson intrigued her most. Bobbi Jo grew up with a cousin, who was more like her brother. He committed suicide, and she was always haunted by what happened to his soul after death.
The teacher taught a lesson on the plan of salvation, and in that lesson said there was always the chance to gain forgiveness and redemption.
“We believe that there is hope,” Christian Niccum said, adding that was key in her conversion. “There is always hope.”
The couple was sealed in the LDS temple to their two oldest children two years ago.
Niccum isn't sure he’d want any of his children to follow in his footsteps, but if they do, he said the entire clan will go on the road again.
“We’d be climbing in a Winnebago and going for it,” he said. “I loved the sport, and how could my parents take me away from it? I couldn’t do that to my own child.” What he does know is that he’s grateful for a sport that has given him the kind of breathtaking ride some only dream about. He’s grateful for a family that loves and supports him and even has faith in him when he falters.
And he’s grateful for the ability to choose, and the principles of his faith that support that.
“My faith is a choice,” he said. “I don’t know how I’m being interviewed just because I decided to go sledding. I’m not a perfect super star. I’m the guy winning the record that they had to (create) for the largest time in between world cup podiums. I’m definitely far from perfect. But I just keep trying.”
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