Welcome to the first in a series of Athlete Spotlights. We will be periodically posting interviews that Athletes Devotional conducts with a wide variety of past and current Christian Athletes. Praying that these interviews will be a blessing to you.
Barbara Nwaba is the eldest of 6 kids born in Los Angeles, CA to Theodore and Blessing Nwaba, immigrants from Nigeria. Barb is a 3-time U.S. national champion in Track & Field’s multi-events, and represented the United States in the heptathlon at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Barb is a graduate, and standout athlete, from the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB).
Barb comes from a sports-loving family with a number of siblings playing basketball, including younger brother David who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA. Barb’s dad is an avid tennis player and her mom Blessing is a fitness buff. Barb’s grandpa on her mom’s side was active in track.
Barb was born into a Christian household. Her parents attended an Anglican church in Nigeria and the family attended an Episcopalian church in Los Angeles. Barb’s Christian faith continues to be critical to her journey.
Barb started to play sports on teams in 9th grade. She competed in both track & field and x-country running. She then competed in track and field at UCSB setting records in the heptathlon, 100m hurdles, 400m hurdles, and the 4x400m relay. Her UCSB coach, Josh Priester, is now her coach at Santa Barbara Track & Field (SBTF).
Q&A with Barb
Q – As a Christian Athlete, looking back at your time in high school and college, what do you look back at and are happy you did (i.e. something that positively affected you in your Christian growth, or things that allowed you to be a positive witness to others)?
A – I am really happy that I joined the track team. I knew it was a talent I had been given. I struggled to get better, and that helped me realize that this was not my doing. I’m glad I learned not to do things on my own but rather do it for God, and to take things to him in prayer.
Q – As a Christian Athlete, looking back at that same period, do you have some regrets, maybe something you wish you could do over if you could go back to that time in school?
A – I don’t really have any major regrets, but in college I wish I would have tried to branch out a little bit more. My life was really track and school oriented and it seemed like there was no time for anything else. I wish I had better time management so I could have had more time to meet new people and try different things.
Q – What advice do you have for young Christian Athletes from your experiences?
A – Going into college, you are suddenly on your own. No one is watching you. It is really important that you don’t get sucked into what everyone is doing. You need to know who you are, and you need to stick to that and not succumb to peer pressure. You need to remain goal-oriented and not let anything push you off that path. I went to a big party school, but I knew what I wanted. It is important that you have a strong faith and that you understand the mission God has for you, and you must stand firm in that. Another important thing for me when I was away in college was finding a church home, a home away from home. When I was struggling in track or school, I had others, including older people to pray for me and to encourage me.
Q – Some of the readers may follow in your footsteps and have the opportunity to compete in their sport professionally. Can you provide some advice to them?
A – If you are part of a team in college, the reality is that not many of those around you will make it professionally. It might just be you. There were over 100 athletes at UCSB and then after graduation it was just me. Fortunately, my coach left his position at UCSB to come and coach me. I’d suggest that anyone who goes pro, that they join a team with similar athletes. It is tough to train on your own, as you’re not sure if you are working hard. Teammates help keep you accountable.
I’ve found that as you get older, you also can’t get away with what you used to. Injuries start popping up, so you need to learn to do the little things to help ensure a long-lasting career. Things like rolling out, stretching, having recovery days, proper sleep, and proper nutrition are critical.
Q – Finally, can you think of a really low period in your athletic career, and let the readers know how you dealt with that time, and perhaps how you grew from it?
A – A really low period in my athletic career was when I had to deal with a serious injury my first year out of college. I had an awesome fall training but strained the ligaments in my knee during high jump practice, two weeks out from the first meet of the year. I had a really hard time being patient. I came back from rehab and rest too early, and had to wait a few more weeks again before I could get back to running. After 4 months of this I finally had to call it a season. I was competing in pain and it didn’t make sense to continue making things worse. I say the worst part about it was I was either angry or sad the whole time. I was totally exhausted mentally and that really made me think twice on whether I wanted to continue training professionally. I tried seeing a sports psych for awhile but what really helped me was coming to terms with the injury and having hope for future seasons. I prayed a lot that God would help me to see this as a blessing and not a burden. Going through that has made me tougher and smarter about giving my body rest when it needs it.
Favourite Bible Passage
James 1: 2-5
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.