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9 Saints who were athletes

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Sports-lovers young and old can find inspiration in these men and women

For centuries, Catholic athletes have looked to St. Sebastian as their patron. A Roman soldier who was shot full of arrows and nursed back to health, Sebastian returned to preach the Gospel once more and was martyred for his troubles.

Though his perseverance in being “martyred twice” makes him a fitting patron for 5 a.m. workouts and ultramarathons, there’s no evidence that St. Sebastian took part in any organized sports. Fortunately for Catholic athletes, there are plenty of saints who have.

Blessed Chiara Badano (1971-1990) was a skier, a swimmer, and especially a tennis player. She loved to sing and dance and was known for her enormous smile. That radiant smile was undimmed when she got a diagnosis of bone cancer that pulled her off the tennis court and the dance floor and confined her to an oncology ward for the rest of her short life. Throughout her illness, she prayed, “Jesus, if you want it, I want it too.”

Blessed Benedict Daswa (1946-1990) was a South African convert to Christianity, a teacher, a principal, a husband, father of eight, and a soccer player. He was a great advocate of athletics as a means of keeping young people on track and trained other teachers to coach soccer, volleyball, and hockey as well. When the soccer team he had founded began to try to use witchcraft to win games, Benedict objected. Ultimately he quit the team and founded another, of which he was also manager. His stance in opposition to black magic later led to his martyrdom at the hands of his friends and neighbors.

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