May 5, 2017

Olympics star shares ‘gold medal’ moments that lead her to serve God and people in need

Catholic Charities Indianapolis presented four individuals and a business with Spirit of Service Awards during an April 26 dinner in Indianapolis. Award recipients, seated from left, are Karen and Don Beckwith and Grace Albertson. Standing, from left, are John Ryan, president and CEO of Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman law firm; keynote speaker Tamika Catchings; Msgr. William F. Stump, archdiocesan administrator; and award winner Gary Gadomski. (Submitted photo by Rich Clark)

Catholic Charities Indianapolis presented four individuals and a business with Spirit of Service Awards during an April 26 dinner in Indianapolis. Award recipients, seated from left, are Karen and Don Beckwith and Grace Albertson. Standing, from left, are John Ryan, president and CEO of Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman law firm; keynote speaker Tamika Catchings; Msgr. William F. Stump, archdiocesan administrator; and award winner Gary Gadomski. (Submitted photo by Rich Clark)

By John Shaughnessy

As Tamika Catchings shared defining moments from the journey of her life, she never mentioned the four Olympic gold medals she earned as a member of the U.S. women’s basketball team—or how she led the Indiana Fever to a championship in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Instead, the keynote speaker at the archdiocese’s Spirit of Service Awards Dinner in Indianapolis on April 26 recalled a poignant moment from her childhood that propelled her to these accomplishments—and to her launching the Catch the Stars Foundation which helps disadvantaged youths achieve their dreams.

The moment occurred shortly after her family moved to a new city when she was in the second grade, a moment that occurred a few years after she was diagnosed with a hearing disability when she was 3 years old.

“In second grade, I realized I was different. Every single day, I went to school, I got made fun of—for the way that I talked, for the way that I looked, for the hearing aids I had to wear,” Catchings told the 460 people who had gathered at the Indiana Roof Ballroom for the fundraiser for Catholic Charities Indianapolis.

“Every single day I walked home, I’d have tears streaming down my face. I’d stomp into the house and I’d slam the door, and I’d beg my mom, ‘Please, please, don’t make me go back. I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll wash dishes. I’ll fold clothes the rest of my life. Just don’t make me go back!’ And every single day, my mom would wipe my tears away and say, ‘Honey, I can’t let you give up.’ ”

That’s when Catchings, whose father played in the National Basketball Association for 11 years, saw sports as a way to fight against those taunts and to follow her mom’s advice.

“I realized real fast that if I became really good at something, and you made fun of me, I’d say, ‘Let’s go play basketball,’ ” she said. “I might not beat you the first time or the second time or the third time, but I guarantee I would practice, and I’d come back and beat you, and that would be the last time we would play.

“You talk about a girl on a mission. When I started playing sports, my idea was I just want to be normal. I want to fit in. I want to be like everybody else. I didn’t understand that being different really wasn’t that bad.”

Later in her talk that was marked by her stories, her charming personality and her touches of humor, Catchings shared another defining moment that happened when she was a sophomore at the University of Tennessee—a year after her college team finished with an undefeated season.

“The team started losing a couple of games, and you would have thought the world was coming to an end. People were yelling at each other and all that,” Catchings recalled. “I remember driving down the street, and there was a billboard up there about this church having a revival. I ran back to the dorm and said, ‘Hey guys, I saw this billboard. We have to go to this church.’

“And the preacher talked about, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ He talked about having a relationship with your heavenly father. My mom and dad were divorced. One of my teammates had never seen her father. Another one hadn’t seen her father since third grade. We sat there that night, all four of us with tears coming down our faces. And at the end, the pastor said, ‘If anybody has lost their way and is looking for direction, I’m asking you to come.’ ”

Catchings and her three teammates rushed to the front of the church.

“We dedicated our lives to Christ. Talk about a gold medal moment.”

She also shared the moment when she saw the impact she could have on other people. It came after her father retired, when he worked for an organization that helped people in need—a childhood moment when she helped to give food to people at Thanksgiving and toys to children at Christmas.

“That’s when the seeds got planted,” she said.

Those seeds have since led to the New Year’s resolution that Catchings made for 2017.

“Every year, we make New Year’s resolutions. One thing I decided was to focus on one word. My one word, ‘Impact.’ Everywhere I go, everywhere we go, we have a choice. We can impact people positively or we can impact people negatively. You have the choice.

“My choice everywhere I go, I want to impact people. I want to impact people to the extent where they want to impact somebody. And the people they impact, they want to impact somebody. It’s all about inspiring. Your job is to impact. Your job is to ignite. Your job is to inspire.”

It’s what Catchings did during her basketball career before retiring last year. It’s what she continues to do with her foundation. And it’s what she hopes to do in her new position as director of player programs and franchise development for Pacers Sports and Entertainment.

“When I look around at all the people here—and all of us come from different walks of life—we’ve all gone through our own journey and we’re still going through our journey, and you think about all the people who have helped us get to where we are today.

“The journey has been awesome. I know what I did on the court. And for you, Catholic Charities, what you have done and what you continue to do for so many people, this is just the beginning. … I’m not finished yet, and neither should you be.”

During the dinner, Catholic Charities executive director David Bethuram also focused on the journey that the agency has made in the archdiocese since its founding in 1919.

“Throughout our history, Catholic Charities has worked to meet the needs of those most vulnerable among us,” Bethuram said.

He noted that the majority of Catholic Charities’12 programs focus on three categories: caring for children, strengthening families and welcoming strangers and newcomers. A principal challenge today is trying to address the plight of poverty that affects so many people and families.

“We will continue to provide ‘safety net’ services that help with food, utility and emergency housing,” Bethuram said. “But today, Catholic Charities is also committed to identifying and implementing strategies and opportunities which will eventually lead those currently living in poverty out of poverty.

“To do this, Catholic Charities has embarked on a major effort to study and research how best to dedicate resources to specifically address the root causes of poverty, including lack of training, lack of education, poor health and unbalanced diets.”

Bethuram also asked for help from the community in this effort. His closing message captured the difference that Catholic Charities wants to make for the families who seek the agency’s help.

“We firmly believe, when this is done right—helping them in defining clear objectives and goals for themselves—they will receive the encouragement and hope they need to obtain the skills that will sustain them for generations to come.”

The efforts of Catholic Charities Indianapolis were also recognized by Nicole Finelli, the event chairperson for the Spirit of Service Awards Dinner.

She praised the agency’s “compassion and efficiency to really touch the people in this community. For every dollar that comes into the door, 92 cents or more of that goes to programming. It goes to helping the people of central Indiana.”

The celebration ended with Msgr. William F. Stumpf saluting Catholic Charities Indianapolis for serving 75,000 people in 2016. The archdiocesan administrator noted how that help matches the direction that Pope Francis has set for the Church.

“As a Church, we talk an awful lot about having a preference for the poor and serving those in need,” Msgr. Stumpf said. “And certainly we all know that Pope Francis has emphasized from the beginning of his papacy that the Church needs to be a Church that is with the poor and is poor.”

He then mentioned that Pope Francis recently made a surprise appearance, via a videotaped talk, during the recent TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Vancouver, Canada.

“He spoke about three things. He spoke about power. He spoke about humility. And he also spoke about hope,” Msgr. Stumpf noted. “What Pope Francis had to say is so relevant for what we’re all celebrating tonight. He said, ‘A single individual is enough for hope to exist. And that individual can be you. And then there will be another you. And another you. And then it turns into us.’

“He went on to say, ‘Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the ‘other’ is not a statistic or a number. We all need each other.’ So let us continue to pray to God that he will give us the strength and wisdom that we might channel his saving grace and be an instrument of his mercy for everyone, especially those around us.” †

 

Related story: Helping others at the heart of Spirit of Service winners’ lives of faith

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