David Wise is the most unusual "black sheep" in the Olympic Games. The New York Times calls skiers "models of branded dishevelment marketed as easygoing and athletic slackers, usually longhaired and clothed in flannel, like guitarists from a jam band enjoying a day in the snow." By contrast, Wise is a 23-year-old husband and father whom his competitors call "vanilla." The Times describes him as "counterculture to the counterculture. He is the undude." He agrees: "People kind of look at me as the black sheep. I don't necessarily live the lifestyle that goes along with skiing."

He also happens to be the best in the world at what he does. In the freeski pipe, where athletes perform incredible aerial acrobatics while skiing up and down a snow-covered U-shaped arena, Wise has won back-to-back X Games titles and a world championship. One of his "tricks" involves spinning 3½ times in the air before landing on his skis and continuing his run. This week, his signature trick helped him win gold at the Sochi Olympics. 

What does he think of his success? "I think being a good husband and father is more important than to be a great skier. So I kind of focus on that, and the pressure is off." He believes that "there's a lot more to life than skiing. We're just flipping and skiing in the halfpipe. It's not an eternally lasting thing."

What is? His relationship with Jesus. David met his future wife at a church camp. He proposed marriage when he was 20 and she was 19, kneeling under a full moon and presenting to her a poem he had written in glow-in-the-dark ink. Both are now youth ministers; he may become a pastor in the future.

Reading his story reminds me of two important facts. One: we must stay connected to Jesus if we would serve him. David admits, "If I'm not spiritually in tune, then the rest of me is not going to be in tune either." So what does he do? "I always try to wake up and spend some quiet time, try and center myself and really feel connected to God and what He's trying to say or speak into my life. As long as I have that, it becomes easier for me to just go out and enjoy what I do." He's following the example of Jesus, who met with his Father early (Mark 1:35), late (Matthew 14:23), and sometimes all night (Luke 6:12). When last did you spend an hour with your Father?

Two: when Christians serve Jesus, others take note. David says, "Even after I won the X Games the first time, they said: 'We don't know what to do with this guy. He's different.'" How does he respond? "My rebuttal to that is: Why do you want something that has been done before? It's the people who are different who end up shaping the culture." As I often say, the darker the room, the more obvious the light (Matthew 5:14-16).

Because he walks with Jesus and serves him, David Wise can say, "life's a grand adventure." Do you agree?

Publication date: February 20, 2014