Twenty-four-year-old Jake Dalton isn’t one of those athletes who point heavenward after every successful vault through the air.
But he bears other outward signs of his Christian faith, including two tattoos: a pair of praying hands on his right side, and the words of a New Testament verse on the other. He had his left side etched with Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” — months before traveling to the Olympic trials back in 2012.
He became a four-time world medalist and has won more than a dozen national medals.
On Saturday, Dalton, a native of Reno, Nevada, helped kickstart the performance of the U.S. men’s gymnastics team in Rio. Dalton earned the second-best score in the individual floor exercise and helped the U.S. advance to the team finals. Dalton’s score of 15.600 on the floor was beaten only by American teammate Sam Mikulak, who earned a 15.800. Overall, the U.S. had a combined 270.405 points, right behind China’s total of 270.461.
Of the Philippians verse tattoo, Dalton said, “It was kind of my last little thing to remind myself to do everything that I could to be ready for that team and try to get on the team [referring to the 2012 Olympics]. And whatever happens it was God’s plan to happen, whether I made the team or not.”
Dalton — not surprisingly, he is a fitness advocate — also wears a favorite necklace in the shape of a kettle bell with the words of Psalm 28:7: “The Lord is my strength.”
Dalton grew up playing different sports, but was mainly focused on baseball. But he thinks divine intervention led him to focus on the floor routines. “My baseball coach told me to do gymnastics because it would help with my pitching arm,” he said.
“If it’s God’s plan I’m going to get injured, there’s a reason for it and it will make me stronger,” said Dalton.
Since the London Olympics, Dalton experienced a physical setback. He had to undergo surgery last year for a shoulder injury.
“My biggest question and fear was, ‘Would I be able to get back fast enough to get ready for the Olympic Games?’” he recalled.
Dalton said his faith — especially daily prayer — helped him overcome his fears about competing. “A lot of it is scary, so I actually do pray throughout most of my workout,” he said.
That spiritual practice calms him down but also energizes him, he said.
“If I’m a little nervous to do something, it kind of allows me to put my trust in my faith and allows me to get through workout a little bit better,” he said.
Given his active schedule, Dalton isn’t able to get to church very often. But he said he and his wife, Kayla, sometimes attend JourneyChurch, an Evangelical Covenant congregation in Norman, Oklahoma, or watch the livestream of its worship services.
As he flips through the air and seeks the perfect landing at the Rio Games, Dalton said he will try to focus on faith rather than fear.
“Usually you’re afraid to get hurt, so my thought process is, ‘If that’s God’s plan that I’m going to get injured, there’s going to be a reason for it and it’s going to make me stronger,'” he said. “I’m ready to go and just put my faith that God’s going to carry me through and keep me safe.”
This article, which originally appeared in Religious News Service, contains updates from LifeZette.