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Skiier Nick Goepper gets ‘gnarly’ with God

Nick Goepper makes a jump during a run in the men's ski slopestyle final to win the bronze medal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, on Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

(RNS) — When Team USA skier Nick Goepper flies down the slopes backward, launches off a ramp, twists into a knot and lands on one ski, he says he is never alone.

“I always wear a cross on my goggles during contests when I’m doing something gnarly,” the 23-year old Indiana native told Beliefnet in 2014. “It’s a reminder that I’ve got someone else helping me out.”

Recently, Goepper needed more help. After taking the bronze medal in the showy slopestyle skiing at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, he sunk into a depression, withdrew from family and friends and drank heavily.

He recounted this period in a special X Games video released just before he departed for South Korea.

One night, he called his mother and said, “Mom, I’m thinking about going to get a bottle of vodka and go sit in my car in Lamb’s Canyon and drink the whole thing.”

Lamb’s Canyon, Utah, is where Olympic skier and silver medalist Jeret Peterson killed himself in 2011. Goepper’s parents flew from his native Indiana to his side and, eventually, enrolled him in a recovery program.

Now, Goepper has his eye on the gold at Pyeongchang, a color he captured in three consecutive X Games between 2013 and 2015.

“I got a bronze medal in Sochi and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a little chip on my shoulder and want to better that this time around,” Goepper said at a news conference in Pyeongchang on Sunday (Feb. 11). “Being the only returning medalist from Indiana and representing the Midwest, I would love to bring back another medal for the Hoosiers.”

There are many Christian athletes on the slopes, Goepper said, and that also helps him stay focused and grounded.

“It’s never fun to do it by yourself,” he told Beliefnet. “It’s good to have other people that are on the same path as you. It’s nice to have that in common and be able to converse with them. It’s cool to share that.”

In 2014, Goepper said his favorite Bible verse is, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”

“I kind of envision me skiing and God is kind of like an eagle right next to me screeching in my ear that everything is going to be all good,” he said then. “I just try my best and that’s all I can ask for.”

Goepper’s competition begins Feb. 18.

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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