The day before Pope Francis announced the canonization date
for Blessed John Paul II (April 27, 2014), I competed in my
So after the announcement, I was thinking not only about the
holy pontiff but also about my recent swim, bike and run (my
body wouldn't let me forget).
Behind the starting blocks at high school and college swim
meets, I often prayed to St. Joan of Arc, my confirmation
saint and a woman who had enough guts and faith to take on
the English army.
I fell in love with Joan after reading Mark Twain's little-known
biography on the 15th-century teenage saint.
St. Joan was my go-to gal when I felt my courage waver or my
Yet as much as I love her, I would like to suggest that the
soon-to-be St. John Paul, probably the most athletic pontiff
in the history of the church, be named the patron saint of
In a 1984 homily at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Pope John
Paul II told the assembled athletes: "Sport is the joy of
life, a game, a celebration, and as such it must be properly
freed from excess technical perfection and
professionalism, through a recovery of its free nature, its
ability to strengthen bonds of friendship, to foster dialogue
and openness to others."
Pope John Paul loved to swim, hike, kayak and ski. But even
more importantly he understood the value of athletics and its
proper place in our lives. At its best, athletics is about
celebrating the beauty of being alive, of the bodies we were
given, and about using self-discipline and hard work to reach
our goals with humility and humor.
Pope Francis hasn't asked me yet, but St. John Paul, the
patron saint of triathletes, makes perfect sense. On my next
triathlon I know I'll need all the help I can get.