Grey Cup champion knows the true meaning of victory on and off the field

11055259_10155719037165635_5636345264605379836_nWhat would you do if you went 0-24 in the first three years of your university athletic career? For David Beard, a former University of Alberta Golden Bears football player and now an offensive lineman for the Edmonton Eskimos football club, this was his reality.

Growing up in the Edmonton area, David was excited about the opportunity to stay close to home after committing to join the football program at U of A, however he was admittedly nervous about stepping into the university lifestyle and prayed for a community to provide support and encouragement. After participating in spring training camp in 2012, David encountered Athletes in Action through a “team meeting”, where AIA staff invited anyone interested in learning more about integrating faith and sport to meet up for coffee.

It was at this meeting that he first expressed a desire to make a difference on his team, at a time where there were not a lot of other players actively seeking out their faith: “AIA was the group I needed, my accountability, my community, the faith circle that I needed because mine had been flipped upside down.”

Reflecting back on his high school athletic career, David remembered all the successes he achieved (Athlete of the Year, MVP trophies and awards) and how much he clung to sport to define him. He explained that he never really cracked or fell apart in high school, which deceived him into thinking it was appropriate for his athletics to remain at the centre of his identity, because sport was doing everything in his life he needed it to.

“When I first came to AIA, I got enlightened as to where sport is supposed to sit in your life. I discovered that I had been idolizing sport and putting it in a place where it doesn’t belong; it had been my identity and what was really fulfilling me.”

He was consistently challenged by AIA staff to continue asking what it could look like to build a group of his teammates who were interested in growing in their faith and attending regular chapels together.

“AIA provided me with lots of opportunities to serve, and to train myself how to serve well. I learned to place sport where God designed it to be: a place of joy but not fulfillment.”

Fast forward four years, to May 2015, when David Beard was selected as the 16th overall pick in the CFL Draft by the Edmonton Eskimos. “I felt like I had been able to help reignite the flame at U of A and could now pass on the torch to some up-and-coming players who also have a heart to reach their teammates for Jesus. I was built into and ministered to through AIA campus ministry for four years, and now I had the opportunity to transfer into pro ministry.”

This new stage of life brought a different audience, with players in different stages of life and unique new challenges and barriers to be overcome.

“It was like being back at square one with the Eskimos, really feeling like a rookie and being reminded of the sensation of not having much of a voice or an influence on my team. Learning how to serve in a new role and to be a light on the team was a new challenge this past year, and I know God was moving in this situation too, especially allowing me to stay here in Edmonton and being able to come from a place of strength with my support system nearby.”

With the Eskimos having an extremely successful 2015-2016 season, finishing first in the West Division and going on to win the Grey Cup for the first time in 10 years, David suddenly found himself on the winning side of a championship after experiencing loss after loss for so long in university. And it led him to a pretty major breakthrough:

“While I was still at U of A, I had removed sport from being an idol in my life and put Christ where he belongs, as number one in my life, but I didn’t realize at the time that I had kind of gone a bit overboard with that. What I had done, in a way, was to insulate myself from the effects of football. I had built up this armour from losing, so that I was no longer phased by it – I didn’t get mentally or emotionally overwhelmed by losing so much. I was still able to do my best and compete hard in practice and games, and of course there were still huge challenges, but I was never challenged by the question of ‘do I still want to do this anymore?’ And I think that had a lot to do with my purpose outside of football, with being intentional with my teammates and looking for ways to serve them. I think that helped me get through that time.”

What David didn’t realize at the time was that he may have built up that armour a little too much. It wasn’t until his third year, after the Golden Bears had won their first two games in three years, that he noticed something seemed slightly off.

“I was incredibly excited because these were the first wins of my university career, but the high of winning didn’t last very long. I was excited, but it was only temporary – that was what I had trained myself to be. Wins weren’t going to be the end-all, but neither are losses. Sheltering myself from the effects of the game, and minimizing the emotional rollercoaster that comes with winning and losing, helped me from being rocked by the waves of losing. It kept me from being in such a low spot, in terms of success on the field, and in the same way it kept me from being rocked by winning. So after we had won, I still wasn’t really that excited – I was pretty even-keel about it all.”

“This past season [with the Eskimos] was a huge eye opener for me. Being on a winning team for the first time in five years and finally having some success on the field was so fresh and new to me – it was awesome! But it wasn’t until we won the Grey Cup that I realized why I was so excited about it. I had been training myself that sport doesn’t affect me, and I had sheltered myself from it so I wasn’t disappointed that it didn’t fulfill me, so I was able to enjoy it just for what it was; the win was even more enjoyable than I had expected. I had trained myself that it wasn’t going to be that good, that it will be cool but not as great as what it’s made out to be; but it was! It was so exciting, so incredible, and I realized it was because I had soaked up and appreciated and taken in everything (the win) had to offer. Everyone else soaked it all in as well, but I didn’t experience any disappointment they may have felt afterwards – that nagging sensation that it still wasn’t enough. I already knew that it wasn’t going to be enough to fulfill me, and it was because of that reason I feel like I was able to enjoy it so much more than the majority. Because I was so unfamiliar with winning for so long, the experience was incredible. It didn’t take anything away from the joy of winning because I took everything the win had to offer and didn’t expect any more, so it wasn’t disappointing in any way. It was fantastic.”

When asked what victory beyond competition means to him, in light of winning and losing, David shared:

“[Winning the Grey Cup] was the first time I was able to utilize all those AIA principles and really grasp and experience what it all means to put God first in your life and still be a winner, to still enjoy a championship and the competition of the elite of football. It’s because it’s not going to fulfill me, that I get to enjoy it this much. Christ is going to take some of the blows of losing, and if you don’t do it the right way like I did, you might also be misled in terms of thinking Jesus doesn’t want you to experience the fullness of a win too. Losses are tough, but the place I put God in my life helped me still be a strong competitor and love the game even when it sucked on the scoreboard. Emotion is still part of the game that God designed; it’s designed to be competitive, life-giving, and emotional. Putting sport in the place it’s supposed to be in your life will allow you to take all the good things it has to offer without being crushed by the losses.”

During the offseason he had the opportunity to visit several churches and communities across the province to use his sport as a platform to speak and share his story with various groups of people, alongside his wife Vanessa.

With training camp underway and the 2016-2017 CFL season fast approaching, David is excited coming into a new season, in hopes that both mentally and physically he will not only be able to come back well from an injury he suffered last year, but continue to improve his performance.

“It was definitely an uneasy feeling as time closed in on camp this year because I wasn’t sure how my hand would hold up, and God is definitely asking more from me in the trust department. The good news is he has, and is continuing to bless me with health so far and he has been working in my heart in a way that I believe even if my “field” goals aren’t achieved this year, I know God’s plan is still prevailing.”