Speed skater becomes nun: This story doesn't deserve run-of-the-mill, faith-free reporting

There’s no shortage of Olympic-athletes-and-their-faith stories coming out these days and for the most part, they’re decent stories.

There’s Gina Dalfonzo’s wrap-up of Christian athletes at the event for Christianity Today; a piece on Jewish athletes from the Jewish News of Northern California; Al Jazeera’s article on the lack of an Islamic prayer room for Olympians and so on.

But USA Today’s piece on the former speed skater who became a nun isn’t one of those well-written stories. Although datelined South Korea, the locale is in northern England, which throws off most readers at the start.

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- At a community ice rink in the northern English city of Bradford, the security attendant had a bit of a dilemma. She had already remonstrated with a group of teenage boys for larking about, skating too quickly and endangering other visitors, and now there was another speedster hurtling around the rink, even faster.
Except that this time the customer powering around the ice, executing gliding turns and weaving in and out of human traffic wasn’t joking around and carried a focused look of remembrance.
And she was wearing a nun’s habit.
Eventually Kirstin Holum, or Sr. Catherine of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, was stopped by the guard and asked to slow down, which she did without complaint.

The story doesn’t say any more about this New York-based order, founded 30 years ago this year, that has attracted quite a youthful following and is growing while many other religious orders are not. That might be worth a sentence.

In 1998 at Nagano, American long track speedskating was excited about the emergence of a potential new star. Holum, whose mother Dianne won Olympic gold in 1972 and coached Eric Heiden to five golds in 1980, not only came from skating royalty but, at 17, had already shown remarkable prowess in the 3,000 and 5,000-meter events, disciplines that typically favor older performers who are fully matured. She would place an impressive sixth in the 3,000 and seventh in the 5,000, but would never lace up another Olympic skate.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t go into much detail after that, only saying that many people didn’t realize she was a former speed skater and that she hasn’t watched much in the way of speed skating in many years. One learns that the reporter gathered the facts of the story during a phone interview while the nun was recently in the United States. The two didn't even meet face to face. 

If you wish to learn more about this nun, turn to instead this ABC-TV  feature or this blog post. And this story, which says a trip to the Catholic shrine of Fatima in Portugal is what made Holum decided to take the veil. And a story in Free Republic that says it was meeting women from the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal at a World Youth Day in Toronto that drew her to that order. 

 It seems like the really good stuff about this skater has already been done –- after all, she was part of the Nagano Games 20 years ago -- and editors at USA Today didn’t ask anyone to spend much time on it.

The bottom line: A little more background on how Holum is part of an impressive sweep of Gen X Catholic women into some convents would have helped. It does say:

During the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, Holum was on a mission where some priests allowed her and her fellow sisters to borrow their television. The women’s 3,000-meter popped onto the screen, her specialty, and she watched with her colleagues, creating laughs among the sisters by offering unsolicited analysis that was often matched soon after by similar expert tidbits from the commentators.
She may not get to see any of these Games because there is no TV in the convent, but she is thankful for the way in which speedskating taught her lessons she has brought to her religious vocation.

The word “Catholic” is only mentioned once in the piece, so one gets little or no sense of the depth of faith that called this woman away from the skating rink and temporal glory to rewards of the eternal variety, which the ending hints at. Meanwhile, the:

… chase for more appearances, more medals, more success goes on. Holum chose a different path and went to chase something that, for her, was worth much more.

I know it’s tough to write something fresh about a person who starred five Olympiads ago and maybe it’s time to stop trotting out the Holum story, especially if all you can do is a phoner. But if you’re going to reprise a nun’s story, give us more of a feel of the faith she now practices and what keeps her on that track.

In other words, religious faith may have something to do with this story. You think?

Read this wonderful Spectator profile on Holum for how to get to the bottom of how a person’s faith can draw them away from the greatest of earthly rewards. Even if a person’s story has been done a zillion times, there are always fresh angles. But one has to want to find them.

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