Daniel Gil: I can go through those valleys of shadows of death because I know He’s with me. I know He’ll comfort me and He can bring good out of any situation. You’re just one step of faith away from the miracle that God has for you.
Our Faith Will Carry Us To The Finish Line: Daniel Gil & Brad Minns – Episode #380
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Many writers and philosophers have compared the process of living our lives to running a race, or following a path. The Bible, in Hebrews among other places, makes this comparison as well by saying; “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith [Hebrews 12: 1-3].” Much as a marathon runner relies on their faith to complete a grueling race, or a mountaineer looks to the heavens for strength to conquer a strenuous climb, our faith can provide a source of strength and motivation to endure life’s challenges, pushing one’s limits beyond perceived boundaries.
With unwavering passion and determination, eight time American Ninja Warrior finalist and competitor Daniel Gil shares how his relationship with the Lord has helped him push through some of the toughest challenges–both mental and physical. Professional tennis player and Deaf World Championship winner Brad Minns lost his hearing at the age of three and shares the challenges that brought when entering the world of tennis, how he found the strength to defy the odds.
My early years were full of just joy, full of great leaders, full of different pastors and ministers that were there to be role models and leaders in my life. And I gave my heart to the Lord as a kid, believing that Jesus was who He said He was, did what the Bible says that He did, and invited Him to rule and reign in my heart. But it wasn’t until my high school years where the rubber really met the road for me. That was really when I took ownership and responsibility of my walk with the Lord, and I said, “God, I don’t want to just live off of my family’s faith, my parents’ faith, my pastor’s faith. This is going to be my walk with you.”
And from that point on, the road just took me on the most incredible journey, because I’ve been an athlete my whole life, played about every sport possible. I was always getting in trouble for climbing on things and climbing over things and climbing through trees and fences and all kinds of things. And it wasn’t until I was chasing wholeheartedly, fully, and completely after my walk with the Lord that these relationships and these doors began to open for what I feel like God had purposed for my life all along.
“It wasn’t until I was chasing wholeheartedly, fully, and completely after my walk with the Lord that these relationships and these doors began to open for what I feel like God had purposed for my life all along.” – Daniel Gil
Daniel Becomes a Ninja
It was while I was at a two-year Bible college during my college years that a friend of mine in that tiny, tiny classroom said, “Hey, I got a job you might be interested in.” And sure enough, it was at a ninja gym here in Houston, the only one. And I was like, “Okay, Lord, if you’re going to open this door, then I’m going to use it for you.” And that’s kind of how I got into American Ninja Warrior in the first place. It was literally just a byproduct of chasing after Jesus.
I come alive in the lights. And so competing on the show and training for the show are two very difficult things, because what you see on television is the very first time that we touch any of those courses, and people are surprised to hear that.
We know there’s going to be like some steps that you run across. We know there’s going to be a salmon ladder, the bar that you jump up the rungs. We know there’s going to be like a warped wall that you run up, but all the other obstacles in between, we have no idea what those are going to be until the day of competition, and we don’t even get to touch them until our actual course run. So there’s no sport more difficult or more humbling than the sport of OCR—which is obstacle course racing—and ninja. I love testing myself, pushing myself to the limits, and so do most of the other competitors there.
Preparing to Run the Race
I’ve been both a competitor and a performer for so many years whether as an athlete or as a theater performer. And for me, my mindset personally is one that before I even step up to the starting line to run my race, I have already run that course in my head probably a hundred different times. And as I’m visualizing that course and running through every motion, every movement, every swing, every step that I’m going to take, where my hand placement is going to be, what the texture and the circumference of each thing that I’m going to grab onto is going to feel like, for me, I want it to feel natural. I want it to feel second nature, that I’ve done it before.
The better you are at visualization, the better your performance is going to be. The mindset that I have is, “Okay, you’ve done this before, you have a plan. You are so set, solid, and secure in what it is that you’re here to do. You don’t have to second guess yourself, Daniel.”
I’ll put the blinders on, block out all the noise, block out the lights, block out the cameras, block out the audience, and I’ll put a smile on my face from ear to ear, because as an athlete and more so as a Christian, I’m grateful for every single opportunity to be there.
“I’ll put the blinders on, block out all the noise, block out the lights, block out the cameras, block out the audience, and I’ll put a smile on my face from ear to ear, because as an athlete and more so as a Christian, I’m grateful for every single opportunity to be there.” – Daniel Gil
I don’t take it for granted. I stand at the starting platform and I pray, every single round I lift my hands up and I said, “God, thank you for this opportunity. Thank you for another opportunity to do something that I love so much, something that makes me come alive, but also something that I know will affect those who are watching it. So, “God, give me the grace right now. Give me the ability to do what I believe I’ve trained physically to do. I’m capable. But God, whatever happens, whether I hit a buzzer with the fastest time or if I fall and fail, give me an example of what it looks like to get back up. Lord, give me the grace to do that today.” And I pray that and literally the anxiety, the nerves, literally turns into like this excitement and this anticipation for what it is that I’m doing.
And yes, I’m going to try to go the distance. I’ll give it everything that I’ve got, but at the end of the day, I don’t find my identity in American Ninja Warrior. I don’t find my identity in anything that I do. I find my identity in my walk with the Lord. And with that being so secure, so founded on Jesus, gosh, come what may, I can face any trial, any tribulation.
“I’ll give it everything that I’ve got, but at the end of the day, I don’t find my identity in American Ninja Warrior. I don’t find my identity in anything that I do. I find my identity in my walk with the Lord.” – Daniel Gil
The American Ninja Warrior Community
We all know the blood, sweat, and tears and the effort and the frustrations and disappointments that go into being a ninja athlete, and so we all want the best for each other. The community of athletes and people that are there, I mean, are some of the most incredible people that I’ve ever met. And, you know, we come from all different backgrounds, all different walks of life.
I mean, ten years I’ve been involved in the sport of ninja, and eight seasons competing on it, and it’s just been such a joy to have this community and to have a voice in the community too, which is the success that God has blessed me with. And of course I’ve worked hard, but to watch—as a man of faith, be known as the worship leader on the show—so many people say, “Wow, Daniel, like you’ve been consistent in the way that you talk, consistent in the way that you act, consistent in just the person that you are over the years. What is it about you? What is different about you?” And I’ve had so many opportunities to get to share my faith, to even pray for people. And it’s been such a joy because the community is really what makes the show what it is.
Daniel Takes Home the Win
When I first began competing on the show, the goal, the dream was, “Well, Lord, if I just get on the show, that’ll be enough. That’ll be amazing. I’ll have this incredible testimony.” And then I did so well my first year that then my goals began to shift and I said, “Lord, I just got Rookie of the Year, and this felt great. I wasn’t as nervous. I think I can go the distance, Lord, I want to win.”
And it took so many years of getting further and then falling, going even further the next year and then falling, and up to six years. And I made it all the way to the final round, to stage four, Mt. Midoriyama, that rope climb. And I remember climbing it, thinking like, God, whatever happens, I trust you with the results and the outcomes. I’m not going to make this be a crisis of faith for me if it doesn’t get doesn’t turn out the way that I want. I lost by just three seconds, and I was devastated, but it had zero effect on my walk with the Lord. I said, “Okay, God, here’s the deal,” or this will preach really well for one thing, because we all fall. We all come up short at times. We all make mistakes. I said, “Lord, the thing that I’m going to share from this experience is that, Lord, if you brought me here once to the final round, Lord, I’ll do my part, I’ll work hard, I’ll prepare my hands for battle. I believe that you’ll do it again.”
So the next year I came back in 2020, trained up, ready to go. They actually had to push back the season about three different times because of the worldwide pandemic that was happening, but every time I went to the Lord in prayer, He said, “Train. Do what I told you to do.” Because I wasn’t getting another answer. I was like, “God, what do I do? Do I do something else? Because my livelihood is competing and doing events.” And nothing changed. I didn’t hear anything different. I said, “Okay, God, I’ll just do what you told me to do, which is be ready, be ready.” So then after about a three month delay, they called out of the blue and said, “Hey, we’re having a season in two weeks. I hope you’re ready. Good luck.” And I went out there and I was ready and I won season twelve of American Ninja Warrior.
The doors began to open to then speak at schools, talk about overcoming obstacles, anti-bullying, talk about holistic health and wellness. Then doors began to open in churches to get to preach the gospel and lead worship, and then doors began to open to do all these other things. Even now, writing several books and creating content and resources, using the platform that I have to then spread the message of hope and salvation, the Gospel of Jesus. And it has been so, so incredible to watch God fulfill all these other desires in my life, these things that make me come alive just using the platform of American Ninja Warrior.
Point Others to Their Calling
So from Jesus Listens, the devotional, I’m going to read from April 22nd. It says,
Help me to be strong and courageous—trusting that You will be with me no matter what happens. I’ve learned that I can choose to be strong and courageous even when I’m feeling very weak. However, the weaker I feel, the more effort it takes for me to make this choice.
If I focus on myself and my problems, my courage melts away. But if, through eyes of faith, I see You on the path ahead—beckoning me on, one step at a time—I am strengthened. The choice to be bold rests in my confidence that You are with me and for me.
I use every opportunity that I have to to bring about encouragement, to inspire people, to point people to the calling that God has on their life. We each have people that are looking towards our life, whether it’s our families, our children, our coworkers, or our peers. We have people that are looking at our lives. And that’s not to bring about pressure, but it’s to say that God has called us to be examples in this world to those around us, but it means that we have to be focusing fully on Jesus, like Hebrews says, as the author and the finisher of our faith [Hebrews 12:2].
And so whatever obstacles that you will face in life as a listener, whether you might be dealing with something physical or maybe an obstacle that is emotional, like anxiety, sadness, fear, whatever, or even these mental obstacles that try to stop us, the fear of stepping out in faith, the fear of reaching out on a limb to go where God is leading us or prompting us. We can’t let these things stop us. We can’t let these obstacles dictate or define who we’re going to be in this life. God has big plans.
Narrator: To learn more about Daniel and keep up with his American Ninja Warrior journey, follow him on social media, and be sure to check out his book, Kingdom Ninja: A Warrior’s Guide to Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Health.
Stay tuned to Brad Minns’ story after a brief message.
Send Joy With Operation Christmas Child
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Our next guest is professional tennis player and Deaf World Championship winner, Brad Minns. Brad shares about losing his hearing, finding a love for the sport of tennis, the journey to winning championships, and dedicating his life to God when faced with obstacles.
Brad Minns: My name is Brad Minns. I’m a tennis professional in the Orlando area for the last thirty plus years. I’ve also done some personal training and modeling, and I wrote a book, Never Give Up.
I lost my hearing at three years old. I got sick with a high fever. And my parents wanted me to read lips and speak orally instead of signing, so they put me in hearing school and they set me up with a speech therapist so that I could practice speaking out loud and pronouncing my words. And one of the things my mother had me do a lot after school was to read books out loud to the family.
Finding Confidence in Tennis
My family’s support is very important to me, and I loved my mother. She loved tennis. She wanted me to learn to play tennis. She thought it would be a confidence booster, a way for me to socialize with people. But when I was younger, I had a big hearing aid on my chest that ran through my shirt into my ear. I was different. I wanted my hair to be long to cover the hearing aids. I didn’t want to go out, and I just felt out of place because I was the only one with hearing aids.
They would always say, “You’ve got to get out there and try to learn how to deal with those kinds of situations.” So I started playing tennis and I was the first one on the tennis court. I took lessons and I tried to get better. And so we would go to tournaments on the weekends and we’d pack up the car and drive here and there weekend after weekend. I would lose in the first round and come home and go back to the practice court, try to get better. This just went on for years and years until one day my mom and I were at the mall, and there’s a book written by Arnold Schwarzeneggerer, it was called The Education of a Bodybuilder.
And that was when I started lifting weights, learning how to set goals, and learning how to have a vision for the future, how I want it to look, and I started getting more self-confidence and winning tennis matches after reading that book. It really became a way of life. I just love to win and I didn’t like to lose. I started working at getting stronger mentally, physically, and my game improved. So I got into bodybuilding and played number one singles at my high school, number one singles in college, got a scholarship, and so that’s how I got started.
A Prayer for Victory
Playing professional tennis is tough. I mean, even if you’re a good college tennis player, you thought you’d want to go pro, there are so many great tennis players out there, and you have to have a great ranking.
When I was in college, I was playing up until that point with all hearing people. I got a newspaper clipping from my coach one day after practice advertising for the World Games for the Deaf. I’d never heard of such a thing. I’d never met a deaf person up until that point because I always played at the hearing tournaments. So I decided to try out for the World Games for the Deaf. My dad drove us up there. This was the beginning of my experience in deaf culture. We got there, we couldn’t understand each other, and it was a very wonderful and very challenging experience.
My experience going into the deaf culture and playing deaf games, you know, back then they were called the World Games for the Deaf, and now they’re called the Deaflympics. But I made the team up there, and they told me, “You have to take your hearing aids out.” And I’d never done that before, playing tennis.
So I take my hearing aids out and it’s like, Wow, it’s different, your balance is affected, your timing is affected, hearing the ball come off the string, it’s a different situation. It’s complete silence, and it’s hard to explain, you can only experience that really.
I’m playing the defending champion in this match in the final at the World Games for the Deaf. We have to win three out of five sets. So I have beaten this guy before in the trial, I had beaten him in practice before the actual game. And so I thought it would be a pretty easy match, and I found that I was wrong once I started playing in the final.
But all this time I was looking for my parents because they were supposed to be there, and I kept wondering when they were going to get there. And I found myself on the brink of defeat, and I thought Man, all I have to do is lose one more point and it’s over. You gotta have so many match points. It’s been like an impossible situation.
I didn’t know what to do. You know what I did? I decided to say a little prayer, a three word prayer. I said, “God help me.” And now that I said a prayer, I left the rest to God. And so I came back and won the match.
“I said, ‘God help me.’ And now that I said a prayer, I left the rest to God. And I came back and won the match.” – Brad Minns
What I’ve done is taken all those habits that I’ve learned from tennis and bodybuilding, and I apply them to my spiritual life. I get up, I put God first.
There’s physical training, and there’s spiritual training. Physical training has some value, but spiritual training has far greater value because it has benefits, not just in this life, but the life to come. And so every morning, I get up and go workout. I have a strict regimen and discipline. Well, now, I get up and I sit in my chair and I open up the Bible and I read the Bible and I sit there and just listen.
“There’s physical training, and there’s spiritual training. Physical training has some value, but spiritual training has far greater value because it has benefits, not just in this life, but the life to come.” – Brad Minns
I pray and put God first. And it’s a great lifestyle, because the peace of God, that’s the greatest thing, the joy of the Lord, the peace of God who gives us strength and courage, who gives us everything we need to get through this life.
We all have a gift that God created us for, to use while we are here on this Earth to do what He wants us to do. The only way you are going to use that gift to the maximum is to put God first and let Him have total control in your life.
“We all have a gift that God created us for, to use while we are here on this Earth to do what He wants us to do. The only way you are going to use that gift to the maximum is to put God first and let Him have total control in your life.” – Brad Minns
Narrator: To learn more about Brad Minns, check out the new movie about his life, Never Give Up.
If you’d like to hear more stories about navigating life’s obstacles, check out our interview with Don Wickstrum.
Next week: Pastor Ed & Lisa Young
Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from Pastor Ed & Lisa Young, who vulnerably share about the tragic and unexpected loss of their young daughter, LeeBeth, and how they’ve felt God’s presence through their heartache.
Lisa Young: When we became followers of Christ, until this point, you know, you teach the Bible, you live out the Bible. But when it comes to something really hard, how does that play out with your faith?