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Kicking goals in chaplaincy

Chaplain Bill Turner with and Broncos players Michael Ennis and Denan Kemp. Photo courtesy of Trad McLean and the Brisbane Broncos

ONCE EVERY four years the world watches as elite athletes push their bodies to the limits of what is humanly possible and compete for the title of Olympic Champion.

But these athletes are not only putting their bodies to the test, they are also putting their mind to the test.

Elite sportspeople push themselves beyond breaking point, beyond the point of giving up and overcome that voice in their head that says ‘I can’t do it’.

Behind many of Australia’s Olympic athletes, standing somewhere far in the background, is a sports chaplain.

While chaplains are common place in prisons, hospitals and aged care facilities, it has only been in recent years that sports chaplaincy has been recognised by the greater church.

Sports Chaplaincy Australia has been sending chaplains to the Olympic Games since the 1992 Barcelona Games, but chaplains have been working with State and National teams for many years.

Sports Chaplaincy Australia’s Queensland coordinator Bill Hunter knows what it feels like to be an elite athlete.

A former police officer, Mr Hunter was involved in the Sydney 2000 Olympic torch relay as a security runner around Queensland.

He was also the Officer in Charge on the field during the 2000 Olympics Soccer games at The Gabba.

A keen sportsperson and Salvation Army member, Mr Hunter was a guide runner for a blind athlete in the Sydney 2000 Paralympics in the 5000m track, 10 000m track and the 42k marathon events and competed in the 2002 World Championships with the same athlete.

“That was a wonderful experi-ence being in the Paralympic Village for that period of time and being able to help him, and being able to help others on the Australian Paralympic team as well.

“I was able to encourage, support, and even run with some of the other blind athletes.”

The role of guide runner is an essential part of a blind athlete’s preparation and competition.

“When you run together, when you are roped together you have to have such a great understanding of each other, communication has to be spot on and you have to be so much fitter than the blind runner too because you have got to talk most of the time.

“You have got to tell him where he is, how many laps he has got to go, how the race is panning out.

“You wouldn’t believe how much trust is involved!

“You just have to have a good friendship and a fair bit of patience with each other.

“It was a very fulfilling experience to be involved in that, to be able to help someone like that and get the best out of them as well.

“It is a bit of a mental game as well… the coach can do everything they can before the race but you are the one during the race to help that process.”

While at the Paralympics as a guide runner Mr Hunter worked closely with the chaplains on site, in particular the track and field chaplain.

“It was good to be able to link in with him and do a bit of team work in helping some of the guys.

“Obviously some of them had spiritual concerns and other concerns, so it was good to be able to help those people on that one-to-one basis.

As the chaplain to the Brisbane Broncos, Mr Hunter thinks chaplaincy to elite sportspeople is a different ball game to other forms of chaplaincy.

“I think it is a different lifestyle,” he said.

“Because they appear to have so much fame and fortune everyone thinks they are different.

“They are not different really. They are normal people, just like you and I, they are just living a different lifestyle.

“They still have the same problems a lot of the time, some of the problems are exacerbated by the media.

“The scrutiny the media puts them under now seems to add much more pressure.

“That can be tough particularly if they have got front page headlines.

“It is good to have a chaplain there because they can work things out one-on-one without having the whole world knowing.”

Mr Hunter said gaining the trust of the people he works with is key to his role as a chaplain.

“It is great to think that those guys actually trust me because they know they can’t trust too many people,” he said.

“A lot of people are their friends because they are high profile.”

This year the Broncos have asked Mr Hunter to also work with the under 20 side.

The club even made it compulsory for team members to attend a chapel service at the Salvation Army’s rehab centre for alcoholics and drug addicts.

“What the Broncos and a lot of clubs are trying to do is get the young guys to get away from this drinking culture and instil it into them when they are 16 or 17.

“It is great that we are able to have that spiritual influence.

“We might be the only Christian they know so we are Christ to them.

“You would be surprised how many guys ask for prayer requests who you wouldn’t think are that way inclined, but it happens all the time.”

Sports Chaplaincy Australia currently has at least one Uniting Church Chaplain working with Athletes at the Beijing Olympics.

Nett Knox, a Uniting Church chaplain from New South Wales, is currently in China with the Australian Athletics team.

For more information on sport’s chaplaincy visit www.sportschaplaincy.com.au


Photo : Chaplain Bill Turner with and Broncos players Michael Ennis and Denan Kemp. Photo courtesy of Trad McLean and the Brisbane Broncos