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Overcoming Adversity Through Faith and Sports

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
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July 23, 2021 6:00 am

Overcoming Adversity Through Faith and Sports

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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July 23, 2021 6:00 am

Former WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings-Smith discusses some of the challenges she's faced, including being bullied as a child and suffering hearing loss, and inspires listeners as she explains how her faith and perseverance have helped her achieve her dreams.

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Hi, this is Jim Daly with Focus on the Family. I want to let you know about an online experience called SeeLife 2021. In this six-episode video series, we're sharing stories and encouragement that will inspire and empower you to live out your pro-life views. You'll also discover valuable resources to help you step up and get involved in the cause. This is a digital experience you and your family won't want to miss. All the details are at slash SeeLife. At that point, basketball became everything to me.

You know, like that was my guide because I could go outside and I could play and I could practice and like nothing else really mattered. That's Tamika Catching Smith and you'll hear more from her on today's episode of Focus on the Family. Thanks for joining us. Your host is Focus President and author, Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller. John, today is the opening ceremonies for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. And that may sound funny since it's 2021, but as you probably know, because of COVID, the Olympics were postponed till this summer. So to coincide with that, we want to come back to Tamika's remarkable story. She has, in the past, represented the United States at the Olympics playing basketball. In fact, she and her teammates brought home the gold four times. She also has many other accolades to her name. Tamika has overcome adversity in her life by relying on her faith, her work ethic and character by finding and cultivating her identity through sports. She's inspired many others through her leadership. And, you know, when she was with us, John, I got to shoot a few hoops with her.

That was a little embarrassing. And she is really talented. What a player. We had a great time and she especially had a good time making fun of my basketball skills. Well, Tamika now serves as the general manager of the Indiana Fever, the same WNBA basketball team she played for. She's also the founder of the Catch the Stars Foundation in Indianapolis, which promotes literacy and fitness through mentors who inspire and uplift youth to help them define purpose and achieve their potential. And when we last spoke with Tamika, she had just gotten married and was heading for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. And here's how, Jim, you started that conversation. Tamika, welcome to Focus on the Family.

Thanks for having me. Now, the exciting part with all those achievements that you have, women's professional basketball playing on the Olympic team in the past, you're recently married, right? Yes, February 7th.

February 7th. That's great. So you're into your marriage a few months now. And is it going OK? It's going great. That's a tough question, isn't it? Right from the beginning.

Yeah. I mean, thank God we've had the experience of being together since 2014. So, you know, like he went through my last season as far as what it was like being with me on the road, at home, basketball, all that training and stuff. So how long is that season in women's basketball? How long do you go? We play from April and then for this past season or the season that we're in, April. Start early April 24th and then we'll go. We have the Olympic break now. So July through August, then we'll come back and finish our season and finish in October.

Wow, that is a long year. And that is practically every night you're heading somewhere or playing somewhere. Playing somewhere, practicing.

We do have off days, don't worry. But even on off days, you know, I'm doing something around basketball or something with the foundation and, you know, just trying to figure out for me now, like, what's next? Now, it's interesting for you because as a little girl, you were used to this because your dad played in the NBA, right?

Mm hmm. Played for 11 seasons. Eleven seasons? Yeah, 84, which is last year, 73 to 84. I was born in 79. What teams did he play for?

Played for Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers. Oh, man. Did that prepare you for your life now? Could you see then what it was going to be like? Interestingly enough, I really, we were around it, but we weren't really of it, if that makes sense. So, like, all the families would hang out together. So all the kids, we would all hang out and play. But we would play all sports. It wasn't just basketball. We would go to practice and, I mean, we'd be climbing, you know, in the rafters and doing crazy stuff because that's what kids do. And my dad finished in America and then we actually played, he played a year over in Italy in his last season.

So did that for a year. Then we came back to the States and kind of moved around even in the States. So I was in seventh grade when I finally figured out, like, oh, my gosh, like, I really love playing basketball.

And this is something that I do want to follow my dad's footsteps. And your childhood had some difficulties. I mean, it wasn't an easy road for you. Tell us what was going on in your life as that, you know, third, fourth, fifth grader.

Who were you? Well, I was born with a hearing problem and a speech problem and had a hearing aid, still had a hearing aid. And so, like, I had the big hearing aid, the ones that everybody could see and kind of like what you guys have on. We have our little earplugs in here.

Yeah, it's like the little earplugs. But I got, you know, as a kid, you don't understand the differences. And so I got teased a lot. I got bullied a lot. And so I struggled early on just as far as really wanting to fit in and be normal, quote unquote, and be like everybody else. And so, like, that's how sports came into my life, as important as it was, because I knew that if I could practice and I practiced and I got really, really good at something, people couldn't make fun of me. So somebody made fun of me. I said, well, let's go play basketball. And I might lose the first time, but then I was going to go back and practice.

And I guarantee you the next time I was not going to lose. And so, like, that was really early on. That was my focus. You know, faith has always been a part of our family, but it was more one of those things that as a kid you just do.

Yeah. Tamika, let me ask you this question, because a lot of us experienced those things in school. But what did your mom do to just give you some support? Especially second grade. Like, that was the toughest year. First grade, I was overseas. We were in Italy. And then, excuse me, we moved back here.

And so it was tough, because in Italy everybody spoke Italian. You know, our friends spoke English, but if they made fun of me, you know, but I didn't know, you know. Like, ah, yeah, okay, whatever, let's just go play.

And so second grade was really when I found out that I was different. And I would honestly say, like, my mom did a great job, because there were days, like, I would come home and I would be crying. And she would always wipe my tears away and just say, you know, I'm not going to let you give up.

And push me back out the door. And, you know, I did pretty much every single sport, every single activity that you can possibly do. And they kept us very engaged in other sports and other activities that kind of overshadowed, you know, the getting made fun of.

And you obviously had a talent in those areas. There was a moment, though, when you really probably were the most down. And you actually took your hearing aids off and threw them. Tell us about that day. That was the last day I was going to get made fun of. That was it?

Yeah. And I remember, I mean, like, I just remember going to school and getting made fun of. And I was just like, okay, like, this is it. What would the kids say?

What were they saying? Just talk about my, the way I talked, you know, because I did, I had a lisp and, like, I stuttered to an extent because I wasn't comfortable talking. And so I knew I was going to get made fun of. So I was almost trying to be invisible.

But you can't be invisible. And then speech therapy. So I had to do speech therapy. And the teacher would, the speech therapist would come to the room, open the door, everybody looked at the door, and she was like, I need Tamika.

So then the kids are like, why did she get to leave? And then, you know, come to find out I had to go to speech therapy class. So, like, it was the way I talked, the way I looked, just being different, you know, being tall. Anything and everything you could think of. And you got fed up at one point.

Yeah. That day I got fed up. And I was just like, this is going to be the last day.

And what'd you do? Walking home. So my brother and my sister always, like the three of us, always walked together. And to and from school was like a big, tall field of grass. So we would walk to school and then on the way home that day I was like, okay.

They were in front of me just talking and I literally took my handgaze out, put them in my hand, and I threw them. In the field? In the field. As far as I could.

As far as I could. And then got home. We always had snacks right when we got there, did our homework, and then we did whatever sport activity we had. We had softball practice. So we went to softball practice and like after practice my mom was just looking at me. She's like, there's just something different about you. I'm like, I don't know. I don't know what it is. And she finally was like, where are your hearing aids? I'm like, I don't know.

I don't know that. And so we literally walked all the way around softball field. And I played catcher and I played left field, but even though I was left field I was in right field and center field. So you knew they weren't there though. Yeah, I knew. But you just walked into the field with their baseball field.

I didn't lie. It was just kind of like, you know, just telling I don't know where they're at. And so we went home and, you know, we actually walked to them from school and tried to see if they had fallen out. And we never found them, but at the end of the day my mom was just like, you know, we can't afford to keep buying hearing aids.

And so you're going to have to learn how to live without them. Wow. How did that make you feel when she said that? Happy. Did you feel happy that you didn't have to put them on? I was happy.

Because some children may think, ah. I was relieved. Okay. You know, but I knew that in doing that I had to figure out ways to get by.

Yeah. And so like my thing was I sat in the first row in every single one of my classes. I would read the textbook before I went to class and then after class I would stay and like talk to the teacher so I can read lips. And so as long as the teacher was looking at me I was fine, but when she turned around to write on the chalkboard and I couldn't see her lips. So I'd have like words and then like blank and then words and blank.

And like I would have to go after class and have her fill in the blank. What did you learn from that? I mean obviously perseverance and all those things that have made you a professional athlete now. It was contributing to your ability to be resilient and be strong, wasn't it?

Yeah. And I think it gave me a passion. It gave me like I am very passionate like even then like I love school. I actually love like learning and I still love learning. Even with the obstacle of not hearing.

Yeah. Because in books I could go places. Like I could read about, you know, like Italy. I could read about Spain. I could read about Rio.

Like I could read about them in a book. I never really thought I'd ever go there, but in my mind I was able to go there. You know, like it's cool because through basketball it's allowed me the opportunity to go everywhere I read about. Tamika, where is God in all of this? I mean how did you find faith with those kind of, you know, obstacles in your life? Did you resent the fact that you were a little short on some of these abilities like hearing and speech?

Not really resent. We went to church, you know, like every week we were there on Sunday. If we didn't go to church on Sunday we couldn't participate in activities. But I think like most African American families, like you go to church and it's just an expectation from your parents. And if you don't do church on Sunday you're not allowed to do any activities, you know, during the week. And so like for us it was that. I mean we went to church on Wednesday. I was kids of the kingdom all day. I mean we did all of that. As far as like my own personal, like so when I graduated high school and went to University of Tennessee, I remember like, oh man, I can make my own decision.

I don't go to church on Sunday. I still get to play basketball, you know, and it's more like that Rebels stage. And then the end of freshman year going into our sophomore year.

So we came in with the Fab Four, Samika Randall, Kristin Clement, Theresa Jeter and myself. This is University of Tennessee. University of Tennessee. So yeah, so I was driving around and Pat gave me permission to move off campus after a while.

Coach Pat. Yeah, I was getting ready to move off campus. But I was riding around and I saw this big billboard and it was promoting this guest speaker that was coming.

And she was this great guy. It was going to be an awesome message. So I remember going back to the door and I'm like, hey guys, we need to go. We need to do this. Like we need to go to church.

We need to hear this guy. Like everybody, I mean the billboard was absolutely amazing. It just kind of pulled you in. And it's like it was just the right moment for all of us. And so we ended up going. We all came from different backgrounds. He talked about who's your daddy and just how God is your dad.

No matter what kind of relationship you have with your earthly father, you always have a heavenly father that, you know, supersedes all of that. And so the four of us, we all had different relationships with our father. My mom and dad had gotten divorced when I was in sixth grade. One of them, her dad was around all the time. Another one, her dad, she hadn't seen her dad in like four years, you know.

And then another one, like her dad, just kind of like went in and out and it was just like very sporadic. So like hearing that message, I mean we all were like crying and we all came down and we dedicated our lives. And so like ever since that moment, really like my whole mind, like it's just shifted.

Yeah. And I knew. So I started, I mean, walking around campus, I met a young man and he introduced me to Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And so I started going to that too. From that point on, it was just kind of like this is cool.

That is great. I gave my life to the Lord at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp in 15. But that was the moment you would say, even though you had gone to church, it became your own. Your faith became your own. Jesus became real to you. That divorce, you went by that pretty fast in terms of your father and your mom. How old were you when they divorced? I was in sixth grade.

Oh man. And I just remember at that point, basketball became everything to me. You know, like that was my God because I could go outside and I could play and I could practice and like nothing else really mattered. And you know that I made my goal in seventh grade, like that this was what I was going to do. And it was kind of like my way of being able to get through everything without having to talk about it.

And just like basketball, basketball, basketball. We're hearing quite a story today of overcoming a lot of challenges in life from our guest on Focus on the Family, Tamika Catching Smith. She's written a book capturing all the details of her incredible journey.

It's called Catch a Star Shining Through Adversity to Become a Champion. We have copies of that here. You can find out more by checking the episode notes. Let's go ahead and hear more now of the conversation with Tamika.

Tamika, I want to highlight something you said that is important for the listeners to know. When you talked about the Lady Vols, the University of Tennessee, you went 39-0 that one season. And that was one of the great feats in women's sports.

And that team particularly was noted as perhaps one of the best women's teams of any sport. That had to feel special to be part of something so perfect. It was.

It was awesome. I mean, that was my freshman year in college. So I remember just sitting back, I'm like, gosh, every single year is like this year.

I'm in for the ride of my life. But you know, it was just the thing that made it special every single day, like we worked. I mean, it wasn't a day that blood wasn't shed on the court. And it was just because against each other, like we were so competitive, but it was so much fun. But it made you better.

And it made us better. In fact, the coach, Pat Summitt, had a list of imperatives. And let's talk about a couple of those and we'll list those on the website so others can see it. But these are great principles to live by.

What were they? I think for me overall, like and kind of summing up all her definite dozen, you know, the big thing for her was just making sure that we were great people. And so kind of like going through her definite dozen, I mean, attitude, put the team before yourself. And I can say the put the team before yourself was big for me, especially coming in my first year as a freshman. And really, like up until that point, I had never been told that I hadn't done something right. Did you think you were selfish? Did you perceive yourself as selfish? No, I didn't perceive myself as selfish.

I just perceived myself that I knew, like most teenagers, I knew everything I needed to know. And you know, I got this crazy lady down. What did she say? What did she see in you that was irritating her? And she called you out on it right on the court. What happened? Defense. I struggled.

Yeah. And that was the first practice. Literally, I got yelled at. What'd she say to you?

Well, so we were doing a drill and it was kind of like offense defense and I came up on the defense and I played defense the way that I've always played defense, which is work. And so she's like, Tamika, get your butt down, get your arms out. And I'm like, OK. And I get beat like three or four times consecutively. So I go back to the end of the line and now she's like in the corner of the gym. Her back is to us, like totally like not even paying attention.

So I get back up and I get in my stance the way I know. And all of a sudden, like she goes, Tamika. And I turn around and I said, what? And everybody got quiet.

Everybody got quiet just like that. And so, like, I'm mad. She's mad.

I can't believe I just yelled back. So she calls me to the end of the baseline and she's just like, do I have to handle you with lace gloves? And that's her way of like, you're playing like a girl. And she hated when people say, oh, you play like a girl.

So that was her way. And then she was like, do I need to send you back to Duncanville, Texas? I'm like, no, ma'am.

You know, I'm laughing now. But then I'm like, no, because I'm in my mind. I'm like, if she doesn't kill me, my mom is going to kill me. So I might as well stay here and get killed.

And I'm fine with that. She's kind of calling you out. Yeah, definitely did. And she was just like, you know, you need to basically buy into what we're going to do as a team. And so we got through practice after practice, like I showered and went upstairs and I apologized. And that was the first and only time that we ever had a run in like that. I mean, you know, she got on me about other stuff. But yeah. What were a couple of the others?

Just read the list real quick. Number one, respect yourself and others. Two, take full responsibility.

That's definitely one of hers. People made excuses to why they didn't, you know, how I couldn't be in help because I had to do this. And it's like, then you watch the tape and you get to see it.

You know, we got basketball players around, so they know, you know, when you watch the film, you get to see everything you said you thought you did, you didn't really do. Yeah. So take full responsibility. Three, develop and demonstrate loyalty. Four, learn to be a great communicator. Five, discipline yourself so no one else has to.

That was a big one for her. Six, make hard work your passion. Seven, don't just work hard, work smart. Eight, put the team before yourself. Nine, make winning an attitude. Ten, be a competitor. Eleven, change of the month. That was mine. Struggle right there. And then twelve, handle success like you handle failure.

Wow. Those are good things to live by. In fact, I'm going to use those with my kids because those are great life issues. And they're very, you know, biblically based.

Those are the right things. Now, you get into the women's NBA, the WNBA, and you were drafted. Were you surprised you got drafted so high?

And then what happened those first seasons? I think you had some injuries, right? I tore my ACL my senior year in college, so I didn't even get to really finish the senior year.

You know, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2001. That was your knee? And my knee, my right knee. And so I just remember, like, we're literally four months from the draft.

Nobody's going to want me. Because you're injured. Because I'm injured.

It's almost like going to a store and buying something that's already broke. Like, why would you do that? And so that's kind of like what I thought about, you know, from the draft perspective. So number one pick win. I'm like, OK, number two pick win.

Number three, Indiana's on the clock. They said my name. I had to sit there for a second.

I'm like, wait a minute. Was that my name? So I got to jump up so excited, like, oh, you know, I'm going to Indiana. That had to be a great feeling. Oh, it was.

It was. The third person picked for the WNBA. And they were trusting that your knee could come back and you'd do OK. But what happened? So I sat out the first year. And then in July, we were in Houston about to play the Comets.

And that was the first road trip I had been on. I got cleared to start running. So they were like, oh, we want you to start getting acclimated to the team and I don't know. So I was like, OK. So I went and I was just running straight and I felt a pop in my knee.

So I'm like, oh, please, not now. So I fly back and ended up tearing my meniscus. So I had to do another surgery. And I'm like, at least I have a brand new knee.

So nothing else, Lord willing, will go wrong. And so I literally sat out the whole year and then played in another semi-pro league up in Chicago. I would drive back and forth in between. So that was like the year after and then started playing in 2002. So then it took off, right?

Then it just started clicking. Yeah. Man, it's amazing that you said hard work pays off. But that's been one of your credos that you work hard at what you do.

It's so beautiful to see how the Lord worked in your life. All right. Here we are in the Olympic season. You've been on the 04 Olympic team, the 08 Olympic team, the 2012 Olympic team, and now the 2016 Olympic team. That's quite a run. Yeah. That's crazy.

It's fun. And what were the medals? Did you medal in every year? Yeah, we got gold.

In every year. Oh, come on, say it a little better. We got gold!

We did. You're looking at me like, did you know? It's gold every time. That's got to be such a heady experience. I mean, to win a gold medal every time you're out on the floor in the Olympics. Four Olympics in a row.

That's 16 years, hopefully. Well, three in a row, maybe four. Four by faith. Yeah, four by faith.

Four by faith. Yeah. What's that feel like?

Amazing. It's something you really can't describe. I mean, you really can't when you're there and you're going through it. I mean, you work so hard and like even the intensity level and just like training together and all of that. Like, it's just, it's on a whole other level. And then when you get there and like you're standing like the final game is over, gold medal game is over, and you're standing on the podium and you look to your right, you look to your left, and all your teammates like we're all like standing there waiting.

Yeah. And then they start playing the national anthem, the flag coming down. And it's just like, you're almost in your mind. You hear the fireworks going off, you know, because it's that moment and you're just like crying because not many people get an opportunity, A, to represent their country, B, to go and play, and then to medal at all, bronze, silver, or gold. Like, a lot of people don't get that opportunity, but to do it three times, I mean, it's just been a blessing.

Tell us a little more about the foundation and what you're trying to do there. Well, we started in actually 2001. When I came to Indiana, I was kind of like, okay, I have two choices. One, to be mad, go to practice, come home and just lay around, sit around, watch TV, whatever you're going to do. Or two, be mad, but go to practice, you know, do my training, and then come and figure out a way to get involved in the community.

And so that's what I chose. And literally, like, the first event we did through the fever was a basketball camp at a local community center. And when we got done doing it, the guy that headed up the facility came over and he was like, you are awesome with kids, like, have you ever thought about doing your own basketball camp? And so that was the beginning of the Tamika Catching Basketball Camp that year.

And so this year we celebrated 16 years in December. And I'm passionate about giving back. You know, I think through what we do with the foundation, Catch the Stars, we focus on boys and girls ages seven all the way up to 16. And really, like, the overall message through goal setting, through my faith, through setting, you know, like, helping them reach their dreams and their goal. Because I look at my life, and although, like, I went through all my adversity and all those, my parents were obviously strong in my life. But it was my coaches, my teammates, my teachers that helped me pass my classes.

You know, like, there were so many other people that played an important role in my life. And so, like, now I feel like it's kind of like pay it forward. Like, I feel like it's my turn to do the same and be able to offer these kids hope, you know, for their future. And you must, when they look at you, I mean, here you show up at the camp, and these are kids you don't really know. And I'm sure you have lots of sideline time where you're talking to a little seven-year-old girl.

Maybe she has hearing impaired issues or some other issue. How do you relate in that moment after traveling all the steps that you've traveled, seeing God's faithfulness in your life, what do you say to that seven-year-old? Just keep pushing. And I do, I talk about my experiences. I'm very open now, like, as far as how I've dealt and how I cope with everything, you know, growing up. And so a lot of the kids that we deal with come from underprivileged families. And so have been neglected to an extent, or not all of them, you know, but some of them have been neglected or have felt like there's nobody that cares. And so, like, for me in that moment, you know, really just talking about my hearing problem and talking about how I made it through, actually in one of the first camps that we did, I had a mom come up to me and tell me, like, her daughter doesn't like to wear a hearing aid, won't wear a hearing aid, fights her, you know, about anything, speech therapy, you know, any of that. Sounds familiar. Yeah, yeah.

That would be me, but definitely. So I was, you know, she was telling me and then she had six boys, so six boys and then her, the little girl. And so she asked if I would be her big sister. So we actually worked with big brother, big sisters and formed, like, that partnership with them. And so, like, she ended up being my little sister and had gone on, graduated, played basketball in college, graduated from college.

Now she's trying to play ball professionally overseas. So we're kind of in the midst of that. But it's been cool for me to be a part of her journey and to know that, like, I've been one of her role models and somebody that she can look up to. Well, that is that is a great place to wrap this up.

Tamika, it sounds like you are a deliverer of hopefulness and the Lord's been faithful in your life. And you're really extending that to other little boys and girls. And that is precious. It's a wonderful thing to do. So thank you for being with us.

Thanks for having me. What a memorable conversation with Olympic gold medalist and basketball great Tamika Catching Smith. And as the games are starting today, I do hope that you've been inspired by her story. And of course, as I mentioned earlier, she captured that journey of hers in the book, Catch a Star, shining through adversity to become a champion. And it is packed full of stories about Tamika's childhood and formative years and really illustrates how faith and sports can intersect.

You can donate and get your copy of Catch a Star. All the details are in the episode. We'll have a great weekend and join us on Monday when we hear from Pastor Ted Cunningham. He's going to challenge you to find a godly community that'll support your marriage. Who is it that you're letting into your marriage and into your life? So I'm grateful for folks on the family being a good backup singer to marriages who leads your duet off key. Don't just turn them down.

Maybe you need to mute them all together on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team. Thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ. Parents, are you looking for an informative, encouraging and engaging resource for your teen daughter? Check out the new and improved Brio Magazine from Focus on the Family. Almost double the original size in a book-like format, this trusted, biblically based magazine provides teen girls with inspiring stories, fashion advice, cultural insights and positive role models.

Help your teen girl live out her faith. Subscribe at That's
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-20 12:37:21 / 2023-09-20 12:50:44 / 13

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