30th January, 2010
Sydneysider Nett Knox is a sports chaplain who will be working at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. She spoke with DAVID ADAMS...
Can you describe what the job of sports chaplain at the Olympics involves? Will you be working as part of a team and do you speak to athletes from all nations or just Australians?
"At the Olympics my job will entail running regular Bible studies, devotions and church services that are available to athletes, other team members and other volunteers working in the Athlete's Village. We are involved with athletes from all nations and available to all nations. Being Australian I will have more contact with the Australian team than
perhaps chaplains from the rest of the world. I have a bit of a relationship with some of the Australian athletes and hope to be available to them, but am definitely not confined to supporting them."
This is your fourth Olympics - which other games have you attended as a chaplain?
"I was involved in the Sydney Olympics, Sydney Paralympics, Athens Olympics and Beijing Olympics."
Are the athletes generally receptive to your presence? Have you forged ongoing relationships with athletes at previous Olympics?
PICTURE: Abe Bastoli
"For me the most memorable aspect every Games experience have had is the building of the relationships with the athletes. It's a privilege to be part of someone else’s life and be one person whom they can trust is there for them."
"The Olympics is a unique experience for athletes and all the emotions they feel each day are heightened in an Olympic environment. It's important for athletes to have an outlet where they can let off steam, be consoled, find support, debrief and/ or relax. Often, being with a
chaplain can foster that.
" The confidentiality of the relationship between the athlete and the chaplain is crucial for them trusting us and feeling comfortable and safe to unload whatever they need to unload. That may be feelings arising from their performance; it may be feelings about being isolated from family and friends back home; it may be issues with team members, coaches or other support staff, their boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife.
"Sometimes the relationship begins at the Olympics and continues to be supportive and helpful for them after the Games are over. For many athletes, post-Games support is even more important. For that reason, I believe follow-up is crucial and I spend a
lot of time following up athletes once the Games are over."
What's been among your most memorable moments at past Olympics?
"For me the most memorable aspect ...is the building of the relationships with the athletes. It's a privilege to be part of someone else’s life and be one person whom they can trust is there for them, not there for what they can give me...Each of the Olympics I have been a chaplain at has its own special moments that are memorable for me."
Have there been any moments you'd rather forget?
"Each Olympics also has its unique challenges. For me Sydney was my first so it was very new and a little scary. Athens had the excitement of being in another country, but the scary bits of being so far from home for so long. Beijing had its language challenges and it's own unique memorable and less memorable moments. I know Vancouver will be very different again. It will be good being in a country where they speak English though."
How are you funded to get to the Olympics?
"I am completely responsible for raising 100 per cent of my funds. In Vancouver I am being billeted with a family and we have been told breakfast may be included in that. That is such a blessing as raising accommodation costs is a big burden. Because it's the Olympics, getting any accommodation is much more expensive. I raise my own airfare, expenses and for this Olympics I need specialist clothing for the cold temperatures."
When you're not at the Olympics, what does your job involve?
"When I am not at the Olympics I am busy coaching. I coach athletics and soccer. The athletics is for a few schools in Sydney and soccer for the local women's competition. I also play in a women's sports competition, run a
Bible study group, referee for futsal (a variant of soccer) and the womens' competition and look after my family. I meet regularly with sports women from a large range of sports - soccer, triathlon, windsurfing, track and field, for example. Once a month I hold a Bible study for Christian sports women. We get together and the girls get to share sports stories, experiences, challenges and their Christian life together."
I gather you have a love for sport?
"When I was growing up I was a high jumper and competed at school in a number of sports-netball, volleyball and soccer. I also played competitive softball and basketball. I have always loved sport and still do. Not being able to play any sport competitively for about three years was so hard. I had a foot injury and had surgery in December 2008 and am now back playing!"
How did you become a sports chaplain? Was it something you always wanted to do?
"I became involved in sports ministry in 1998. The Olympics were coming and I was graduating from college. I thought sports chaplains would be great to have at the Olympics, but didn't know there was a whole network of chaplains already. I wrote to a few people and called a few people and found out about Sports and Leisure Ministries - which is now Sports Chaplaincy Australia. After some training I was asked to be chaplain to
Australian track and field and have been doing that ever since. At the same time I started teaching and until 2006 I combined my teaching with part-time sports ministry. In November 2006 I resigned from my teaching position to work full time in sports ministry. I love being available to sports women when they need me. The routine of sports people is quite demanding and they are not always free to switch their schedule. It's a lot easier for me to switch my timetable now to accommodate their rigid training and competing schedule."
I understand you're the only full-time female sports chaplain in Australia. Is that because it's a particularly difficult career for women?
"Sport in Australia is still a man's world in so many ways. My experience is that church / religion is also a man's domain to a large degree. Living in two mens' worlds is very challenging. I think it's also just harder for
women to combine work with family and the opportunities for women in sport are not as vast."
How do you answer people who say religion should be kept out of sport?
"I don't have too many people say that sport and religion shouldn't mix, but I think that if we try and deliberately leave out the spiritual aspect of our being, we are not giving our athletes the best possible opportunity to be the best they can be. They do collide and I think the relationship between the two is a little less strained than it used to be."
You're a mother of three - what advice would you give your kids with regard to the role of sport in their lives?
"The advice I have always given my children about sport is to enjoy it and do their best. They are all active in their own ways - surfing, horse riding, skating - and that's all I want. I give my athletes the same advice - enjoy it and give your best. Sport can never define who you are. If it does, who are you when the sport is no longer an option for you? Eventually, we are all unable to play sport - we all get old."
If you would like to contact Nett and provide support please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll put you in touch...