An incredible story of a gifted athlete answering the call and his unlikely coach
My Team Triumph is an athletic mentoring program for individuals with disabilities who normally can’t participate in endurance events like biking, swimming, and running. The events range from 5k runs to full iron man events and everything in between. The athletes or “Angels” help the disabled individuals or “Captains” participate in the events with the use of specialized equipment that include running strollers, boats and bike trailers. The Angels propel or pull the equipment with the Captains inside throughout the different events. This is the story of how God called Christian Jensen to serve through this inspiring program in Wisconsin and the Captain that motivates him.
My Team Triumph was founded in Michigan by founder Ron Robb in 2008. Concurrently, Christian was being introduced to who would soon become one of his greatest inspirations. Christian, a physical therapist at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, WI, was informed that he was going to be treating a new patient, but he didn’t know the severity of her condition. “I had no clue what I was about to face with Mary. All I knew was that she had muscular dystrophy and that she was in need of physical therapy.” Christian said. “I soon became aware of her severity when she was carried into the first consultation on her husband’s back! I immediately said whoa, what’s the situation here?” Christian soon learned that Mary basically grew up a normal kid. She ran, she biked, and did many of the things that we all have enjoyed as children. Then between the ages of 15 to 17 she started tripping and falling more and more frequently. “Mary went to the doctor and it took them three years to diagnose this.” Christian said. “The muscular dystrophy had slowly become worse every year until finally I met her. I asked ‘What can you do Mary?’ and all she could do is slightly lift her arm from her side… She can’t stand, walk, or even lift her arms over her head. So I thought to myself. Now what?!? I’ve been an athlete all my life and have enjoyed the benefits of that and now here’s this lady who wakes up and all she really can do is open her eyes! Can’t sit up and get out of bed. This is crazy!” Little did Christian know Mary was going to give him a new found focus, a focus that would help complete the journey God had been mapping out for him for a long time.
Christian grew up in a very traditional Christian home, he attended Church on a regular basis but his faith was not his own. “I did like a lot of kids I think. I went to church, tried not to fall asleep and looked forward to brunch. I thought there was a God, but my faith wasn’t personal to me.” Then an event in Christian’s life tested the fragile faith he had. “When I was 15 my father was diagnosed with colon cancer and it was very bad for him because within six months he was gone. I remember so vividly at my house where my dad was when he passed, I remember just saying to myself ‘No way! No way is there a God who could allow this to happen!’ My dad was my hero. He was absolutely my hero and now he was just taken from me.” So Christian ran out of the house balling and injured his fist as he put it into the side of the family van. Pain, rage, and question filled the teenager now as his faith was slowly being pushed aside. He channeled this rage and anger into sports and it fueled the workouts to follow. As a result Christian grew up an exceptional athlete. He attended the University Wisconsin of Oshkosh and became an all American and National Champion in Track and Field. At this time in his life, this was how he defined success. “When you do these kinds of events and you get medals and monitor your times, it’s how you create excitement, define worthiness, and measure success. At least that’s how I thought.” 2004 Christian was finishing up college and he returned home. During this visit with his mother her house had caught on fire and even though they struggled to save it the house would be lost forever. This pushed Christian deeper into a sense of needing to rely on himself and not God. “I started to focus on me. What can I do to protect myself and my mom? What can I do to prepare and be more successful? I thought that it was the right thing to do. So I became very prideful and focused on me. I needed to be the role model for my family since my dad was gone.” Christian was on the right path for worldly success. “As time went on, I kept getting further and further from God. I didn’t really pay attention to that but it is a fact. As a result however I felt empty. I was striving for goals that didn’t provide the satisfaction I expected. I became more and more depressed, and as that builds over time it has to go somewhere. Mine came out in addictive tendencies. I looked for ways to feed the emotions.” Shortly thereafter Christian met Tiffany. “On our first date she asked me, ‘What is your view of God?’ Now I had become a practical educated Atheist so I had an answer for everything! I educated her that everything in the world had a function and a purpose to help everything run smoothly. It was a machine! We are all like a machine, and that doesn’t need a god.” As they got to know each other there was a turning point. “We were arguing one night… I mean debating one night, and I said to her, ‘Do you ever wonder why we just know what is right and wrong! I mean innately, I just know! I don’t need to read a Bible to have a sense of right and wrong!’ and she said, ‘Yeah… Where do you think that comes from?’”. Then Christian started to think, and that is when God continued molding the clay. “That fit into my ‘we are a machine thinking’. I didn’t have to be in control but something was. And that something was making the machine run!” About six months later after a great deal of searching and struggling between depressions and feeling the tug from God, Christian felt different. “As Tiffany and I were driving home I looked at her and said ‘I think I’m ready!’. And she said, ‘For what?’. ‘Whatever this is! I am ready to give my life over to God!’.” Tiffany said, “Well have you prayed out loud and asked Him for that?” There was a slight pause. “Well, no not really.” She replied, “Well then do it right now!” Christian sat in the car and the words would not come out of his mouth. “I sat there and the more I tried the more I started to shake! I could feel pressure coming from both sides and I started to shake more and sweat was pouring out my body as I struggled to form the words that I wanted to say! I couldn’t understand what was going on as the tension built up more and more in my chest. This went on for an hour and I had to pull the car over in Freedom Wisconsin. I ran out of the car in the freezing cold and a bright moon. I fell to my knees and wept and it was gone. That was the moment that God seized control of my life. To this day my wife (Tiffany) still calls me a baby Christian.” Christian became a physical therapist. Christian and Tiffany share a lot of the same passions for health and fitness. They would run and bike together often. These shared passions and his career ran smack into Mary.
Mary is inserted into Christian’s life. Between her inspiration and his gifts a mission is born.
“There’s just something different about Mary. Here I am able to do all the things I enjoy, but she is the one inspiring me with stories even though she can’t.” said Christian, “One time she spoke of when she was getting progressively worse, she fell and didn’t have the strength to get up. So, she looked around and saw the state of the floor and decided that since she was down there anyway she’d clean the floor… I said WHAT! You don’t do that! You get mad, you feel sorry for yourself, you question God! You don’t clean the floor! Who does that? But, that’s Mary. She doesn’t care. She wants to live life to the fullest and she knows the hand she’s dealt and that’s the hand she plays.” Christian and his wife Tiffany started running and biking together with Mary, and in 2009 decided to do the first marathon with Mary. As a result Mary said, “I really wish more people like me could do this!” That was the stepping stone for Christian and his wife to explore the possibility of helping others with disabilities enjoy the experience of competing in able bodied events. This led to research, networking and finally coming across My Team Triumph that was starting to get some traction in Michigan. Their mission fit what the Jensen’s were looking to establish. Create an organization that helped disabled people improve their health through the relationships established while competing in endurance events. “The races are just the venue to do that. To bring people together to create that environment that allows people to build each other up and build long lasting impactful relationships. So we started the first chapter in 2010 in Wisconsin and it’s been growing ever since.” Among the many benefits of this organization is the changing the perception of how to view people with disabilities. “Before I met Mary, I really struggled with how I should interact. Should I show pity, what do I do. It can create anxiety of what should be done. But when you come in a sports environment and sports are the focus you don’t even think about that. There’s no question of what to say or how to say it because the focus is on the excitement of the experience! When you are biking or running alongside someone you’re together as brothers! And this for a lot of them, is the first time in their lives that someone has cheered them on and encouraged them, especially in that way… ‘Great job’ or ‘congratulations’ they not only feel normal but they feel special and it elevates them like you can’t believe. It is huge.” Mary also provides added inspiration for Christian. “I call her a pain in the butt! We started running as a result of meeting her and she is always asking ‘When are we running again or when’s the next race?’ or if I sign up for a half marathon ‘Why aren’t we doing the full, or is there someone else I can run with?’ She pushes me harder than any coach, but that’s a good thing! She has a resilient spirit that is very rare.” Even though My Team Triumph is set up as a secular organization, prayer and God are vitally important to the Angels and Captains. “We built My Team Triumph to inspire people to ask questions ‘What makes them different?’ ‘Why are they so positive and happy?’ Our verse is Matthew 25:40 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ We want God to help people feel differently about how they view people with disabilities.” God has pushed and shaped Christian to expand the focus from himself to using the gifts God gave him to serve. With the inspiration of Mary they have been able to accomplish incredible feats. Some of the most difficult accomplishments are: Their first marathon in 2010, a 50 mile super marathon which took 10.5 hours, and a full ironman 2013 which took over 16 ½ hours. This is just another example that all things are possible with God. You don’t have to be an all-American to help with My Team Triumph. For information of how you can get involved in your area go to http://myteamtriumph-wi.org/