Twelve years ago at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, a 17-year-old speedskating prodigy named Kirstin Holum was tapped for future greatness.Photo credit: Mike Powell, Allsport
When Holum placed sixth in the 3,000 meters – one of the most grueling disciplines in the women’s program, a lung-scraping four-minute bust of lactic acid torture – speedskating insiders predicted a golden future and speculated she may not even reach her peak for another decade...
...From that point on, her life began an entirely different journey.
“Speedskating was such a huge part of my life,” Holumn said in a telephone interview with Yahoo! Sports. “I still loved the sport, but I had this incredibly strong calling that it was time to move on and take a different path in life.”
There is no television and no internet at St. Joseph’s Convent in Leeds, England, meaning Holum won’t get to watch the Winter Olympics where she was supposed to become a star.
The peaceful surrounds of the convent is where Holum, now known as Sister Catherine, devotes her life to religious service as a Franciscan nun. That calling had begun on a trip to Our Lady of Fatima, a holy site in Portugal famed for a series of religious visions that appeared nearly a century ago. It was outside the Fatima basilica where Holum decided that a path of religious dedication, not frozen skating lanes, would be her destiny.
“It is funny now to think of how different my life is now,” she said. “I had the wonderful privilege of being able to compete as an Olympian, and now I am blessed to able to serve God and help those less fortunate.”
After completing an art degree, including a thesis on the Olympics at the Art Institute of Chicago, Holum joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, a faith whose mission is “work with the poor and homeless and evangelization.”
Based first in New York, Sister Catherine and her fellow nuns stepped onto the mean streets of the Bronx to work with some of the Big Apple’s most underprivileged children in areas steeped in gang culture. Such work and sacrifice in homeless shelters and soup kitchens gave her a deep-rooted sense of satisfaction that skating had never been able to provide.
She attacked each new project with the tenacity of an Olympian, and, according to Sister Lucille, who leads operations at the order’s Bronx chapter, the “compassion of an angel.”
“It is wonderful to see people’s faces light up when Sister Catherine shares her experiences of her time in speedskating,” Sister Lucille said. “She never boasts about it but she has come to realize that we are incredibly proud of her and are lucky to have her as part of our religious family. The sisters and the people we try to reach love hearing about what she accomplished.”
Last year, missionary work took Sister Catherine to England, where she has found her previous life as an athlete a useful tool in providing some “street cred” when dealing with skeptical youngsters... Full story
Monday, February 15, 2010
Promising US Olympic speedskater traded skates for religious habit
Reminiscent of the Oakland A's minor leaguer who recently gave up his baseball career to pursue the priesthood, Yahoo profiles a promising US speedskater who gave up a chance at Olympic gold to become a nun.