The scene is repeated, over and over.
A new spectator has decided to come watch the motorcycles race, on a dirt-surfaced oval track. Eighteen of the high-powered bikes roar off of the line, sending plumes of dust and dirt in their wake. Inches apart, sometimes even closer, the riders slide through the turns. Accelerating down the straights, they repeat their battle in the next turn.
As the fan adjusts to the rhythm of the two-wheeled choreography, one rider catches their eye. It usually takes a moment for the viewer to comprehend what it is that makes this helmeted figure stand out. As realization strikes, jaws drop. Fingers point. There is an unintentional gasp.
“He’s only got one arm!”
This is how many people have come to meet Jason Griffin, No. 23C on the AMA Pro Flat Track racing circuit. Jason is currently the only licensed Pro amputee to compete on the circuit.
He lost his arm in a lawnmower accident, when he was 2 years old.
“It was my dad’s first time on a riding lawnmower, and my first time underneath one!” Jason says. “I had slipped out of the house, and it was an accident. Well, he SAYS it was an accident.”
“When I was 3, right before my little brother was born, Dad bought me a Suzuki JR50,” Jason says. “Man, I loved that thing!”
Jason’s father was a member (and, later, President) of the Greenville Enduro Rider’s Association. While his dad raced, Jason (and, eventually, his younger brother) would ride around the pits on their bikes. Eventually, they began competing in Motocross and Enduro races, as well.
“My brother had a YZ80, and I was on an XR250. We were out motocrossing, all the time… riding the Enduros… and I did pretty good! Then, when I was about 15 or 16, we just quit doing it… started getting into other things.”
As Jason left the racing scene, and entered the turbulent years of early adulthood, he began to find other ways to get the rush he had once filled on two wheels.
“We were Deadheads,” he admits. “I wasn’t your stereotypical stoner, sitting in his parents’ basement…my brother and I each worked three jobs, 60-70 hours a week. We had good work ethics. But, yeah, we drank. We ‘partied.’ We were on a bad track.”
Eventually, Jason’s dad and brother reentered the racing scene.
“Dad had an ‘82 ST Honda Ascot, and we fixed it up into a racer. They had found this racetrack in Neeces, South Carolina, and were racing on the weekends,” he says. “I had moved away, but they called me all of the time and told me how things were going, and it sounded really neat. Things had done a total turn around. My brother was working out again, living the healthy lifestyle, and it sounded like they were having a great time.”
Then, tragedy struck.
“In October of 2004, I got a call… my little brother had died of alcohol poisoning. He was 27.”
Jason was crushed. His first impulse was to turn back to the escape he’d relied on, before… the bottle. Lost in his grief, he was reaching for the comfort and salvation he’d relied on in the past. That salvation and comfort was waiting for him, but not in the form he had anticipated.
“One day, this guy pulled into the driveway. He said, ‘God told me to come see you. Let’s go to dinner.’ Um, okay… So we went to this Macaroni Grill. It was one of those places with crayons and paper on the tables, for the kids. We talked, and he said he wanted to pray for me. I asked God to take the drugs and alcohol away from me.
“The next day, it was like I had won the lottery. I couldn’t believe it! I felt it! I just KNEW it… God is REAL! I wanted to tell the world. It was as if a light switch came on, and I saw the world in a whole new way, like I had never seen it before! This is the REAL DEAL!”
Overnight, Jason’s world changed. He went to work for the man (a doctor), returned to school, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and two Master’s degrees. Still, he realized that his calling wasn’t in the medical field. There was something else he was meant to do.
His heart was being drawn back into racing.
He began researching online, to see how much a set of racing leathers (a one-piece bodysuit) would cost. The figures were far beyond his reach. However, he stumbled across a set on E-Bay, identical to the ones he was looking for.
“I put in a bid that I could afford. I believe it was $133.25. The auction was set to end in eight days, and I knew there was no way I would win with a bid that low. After eight days, I got the notification. The leathers were mine! They still had the tag on them, and everything!”
Jason acknowledges that some might consider that to be a coincidence, but he saw it as a sign.
“I started racing on my brother’s bike,” he says, “And it was incredible. If I didn’t wreck, I won!”
His record proves his statement. In 2006, Jason won the AMA Sportsman of the Year title, after winning the AMA Amateur National Championship. In 2007, he won the AHRMA Southeastern Regional Championship. The following year, he took second place in the AHRMA National Championship. In 2009, he obtained his Pro Twin license and received the AMA Most Determined Rider of the Year Award. In 2010, he became the AMA All Star Nationals Pro Twin Champion. He claimed the title again, in 2011.
Along the way, Jason continued to find affirmations that he was on the right path.
“The first time I rode at Daytona, at the Municipal Stadium, I fell down,” he says. “I fell down, repeatedly. I was so sore, I couldn’t even get my leathers on. I was sitting there, sweating. I was sick from the pain. A man walked up to me and started a conversation. I told him I was sick. I said that I couldn’t race. He laid his hands on me, and we prayed… and the pain was gone! Just like that.
“And the Twins bike I ride? It was given to me to ride. The guy just gave it to me, told me to race it as long as I wanted, and give it back when I was done. That kind of thing doesn’t ‘just happen.’ I look at it as a sign… a gift, from God.”
Throughout his years on the dirt tracks of America, Jason has found many opportunities to share his testimony with others. Words of appreciation, hope, and encouragement fill the eager and listening ears of his fans:
“You need to do what God wants you to do. You’ll see, anything negative that ever happens, happens as the result of choices we make when we don’t listen!”
“Life is short. Eternity… that’s FOREVER. As we grow older, time goes faster. Too many people are living in the here and now, and that’s not what it’s about. You need to prepare, now.”
“God’s always talking. We just aren’t always listening.”
Despite his achievements, Jason says he doesn’t race for the trophies or the titles. “It’s all about the people,” he says. “Flat track is a tough discipline. It’s made of the best people, a true family. It’s one of the few sports where the top guys… the legends… are just as accessible as anyone else. Nobody’s in it to get rich or famous. We all help each other out. This sport is self-sustaining. It has only survived because of the love and dedication of the people involved in it.”
Jason isn’t seeking to put his name in the history books as a Grand Champion, but he does dream of getting his Expert Plates.
“I’ve gotten my points, and applied for my Expert number,” he says, “But I keep getting denied.”
While racing, Jason took online courses towards his next career field, and secured a position teaching Biology at Tri-County Technical College. He spent his winter racing motorcycles on ice, as part of the I.C.E. Nationals, and is very active in the SEMDTRA (Southeastern Motorcycle Dirt Track Racing Association). Recently, he began racing in the Paralympic Cycling events, claiming two silvers on his six-geared brakeless bike. If all goes well, he could earn a position on the US National team, in the 2016 Paralympics.
Wherever he ends up, one thing is for certain. He will continue touching hearts and reaching souls, everywhere God leads him.
By Mia Moore
Mia Moore is a freelance writer and photographer. She and her fiance, Kevin “Chew” Larcom, live in Central Ohio. They spend their weekends covering flat track motorcycles or working on their family homestead.”
This issue includes exclusive feature stories on Anthony Tolliver, Cody Zeller and Luke Ridnour of the Charlotte Bobcats. It also includes an in-depth feature on one of the best players in Japan’s professional baseball league, Alex Ramirez. Managing editor Brett Honeycutt writes about what Steve Masiello’s situation at Manhattan College can teach us about humility, mercy and second chances. Enjoy.
That potential impact is made possible because the 2014 World Cup issue is being produced in 14 languages and will be used by ministries all over the world during the World Cup — through the internet, via mobile devices and also on the ground as the World Cup is being played.
Please pray as we launch the Sports Spectrum Go Mag, with the mission of the mag based on Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Please also pray that God would use this issue, and others that follow, to reveal Himself to others and to lead people to accept Christ, so that lives would be changed for eternity.
Just the mention of his name elicits a collection of defeated, almost fearful responses from major league hitters.
Some shake their head and laugh nervously. Others ponder their fate for a moment…then shrug their shoulders in resignation. Still others take a deep breath and slowly exhale as if they’ve narrowly escaped death.
Remember the 1993 All-Star Game? The always colorful, left-handed hitting John Kruk stepped in to face Johnson. The 6-foot-10 inch southpaw promptly sailed a fastball over the first baseman’s head. That’s all Kruk needed. He was finished.
He was transformed into a wide-eyed little leaguer batting for the first time as he bailed out against Johnson’s next two offerings. One feeble swing later — Kruk K’d.
“It’s tough to hit when you’re dead,” said the now-retired Kruk in a post game interview after his brush with fate. “If he was going to hit me, he was going to have to hit a moving target. It would be embarrassing to die on national TV.”
Imagine stepping into the box just 60 feet, 6 inches from the game’s hardest-throwing, most intimidating hurler. Facing the long, lanky, lean, and sometimes loose lefty isn’t exactly a walk in a roadside park — it’s more like a night-time stroll through Central Park.
“He’s a very intimidating person,” says Brewers slugger Dave Nilsson after a long sigh. “When you step in the box against him, you know you have to be at your best. Everything really has to come together for you to be successful against him.”
That rarely happens. Not just in Nilsson’s case, but for the entire league.
No matter what statistical formula is used to calculate effectiveness, Johnson is simply the best pitcher in the American League:
Wins: Over the last three seasons nobody in the American League has won more. Johnson has 50 wins.
Earned Run Average: Randy’s three-year ERA is 2.97, tops in the American League.
Strikeouts: Nobody in the American League even comes close. He’s racked up an unbelievable 806 K’s in three years! Dominant? California starter Chuck Finley is second with 530 strikeouts in the same time frame.
In this decade, no pitcher in either league has sent more men dragging their lumber back to the dugout as often as Johnson. He has rung up 1,469 batters — leaving a healthy distance between Johnson and second place strikeout artist David Cone with 1,249 K’s.
Johnson is the first pitcher in history to post five consecutive seasons averaging 10-plus K’s per 9 innings.
But statistics don’t tell the complete story of his dominance. The respect Johnson has from his competitors fills in the details. They voted him as the pitcher with the “best fastball” and “best slider” in the game today, according to a Baseball America poll.
“He’s got a great slider, and his fast ball just seems to explode,” says Paul Sorrento, Johnson’s first-year teammate and former Cleveland Indian. “There are some other hard throwers in the league, but none of them compare to Randy. It’s not even close!”
Why is the 32-year-old southpaw so dominant?
Yes, he has awe-inspiring stuff. And yes, he has a warrior-like competitive spirit. But combine those things with the third and most important aspect of his life, and you’ve found the secret to his success — Randy Johnson is a follower of Jesus Christ.
“About three years ago, I had a traumatic experience in my life — my dad passed away,” explains Randy with a photograph of his father atop his locker. “I was on the brink of becoming a Christian anyway, but when my dad passed away I finally made the vow to the Lord that He could have my life, and I would glorify Him on and off the field.
“In the last three years, I have had more heart and more desire, and I feel that’s a direct reflection of my Christian beliefs and lifestyle.”
Glance at the last three years of his career, and who could argue? Johnson’s game has risen to another level. From good to great. From tough to nearly unhittable. From simply a thrower with good stuff to a pitcher with total command of his repertoire.
“He was tough a couple of years ago when he really didn’t have command of his pitches,” explains Sorrento. “Now he’s really got control of the strike zone. It’s scary.”
The improvement in Johnson’s game is no mistake. When Randy made a dramatic change in his life, his game changed too – for the better.
When Randy’s dad died, the big lefty evaluated his life. He knew what was missing and what was needed.
“Sometimes people need to go through a traumatic experience to turn to God,” says Johnson. “I believed in Him, but I didn’t dedicate my life to Him until I had a tragic experience in my life.”
“When you make that commitment to the Lord, you’re gonna have lots of confrontations, and there’ll be lots of tugging. I feel that myself. But there’s only one way to be on this earth, and that’s to be a Christian!”
Johnson, always candid and never shy, speaks about his faith as openly as he talks about his pitching. Ask him question, and get out of the way-Randy’s got plenty to say!
Ask him about the notion that Christian athletes are soft. He replies with passion, “The Christian athlete is misconstrued as being like an ostrich. When things get tough they bury their head in the sand.
“I would confront any fan or professional athlete to say that to me, because that hasn’t been me in the last three years.
“There have been several times in the last three years where I could have been soft and been that ostrich burying my head in the sand because the going got tough. I got through those situations because I believed that the Lord would get me through them, and because I dedicated myself to doing the things I needed to do to be the best. Thats’s one way I can glorify the Lord.”
Johnson’s performance in 1995 was certainly no ostrich act. No other pitcher came close to his accomplishments. Big No. 51 led the league in earned run average (2.48), winning percentage (.900), strikeouts (294), batting average against (.201), and strikeouts per 9 innings pitched (12.35 – A new Major League record).
Randy finished the season with an unbelieveable 18-2 record, just one win short of capturing the pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, and K’s). Had he captured that, Johnson would have been he American League’s first Triple Crown winner in 50 years.
The fact that he got only 26 of 28 first place votes for the American League Cy Young Award is a travesty! Not voting for Johnson after the season he had in 1995 would be like putting artificial turf at Wrigley Field. It’s just wrong.
But Johnson doesn’t revel in his amazing success. He knows hitters respect him. He knows he’s good. But he also recognizes that it isn’t all his doing.
“There are a lot of professional athletes who think they are doing it all on their own,” says Randy. “I was one of those athletes at one time. I felt that when I struck out a bunch of guys, that it was solely me doing it-but not anymore.
“The Lord’s given me the ability to go out and do the things that I do. It’s being done by the Lord.”
Johnson has been gifted with a Kingdome full of talent. He’s tall, he throws amazingly hard, he’s smart, and his competitive spirit is second to none.
“He does not like to lose,” says Mariners catcher Dan Wilson. “He is a very competitive person-a real warrior-type!”
Although he doesn’t go to battle with a javelin in his hand, as Wilson’s comment suggests, some hitters would rather stare down a flaming spear than a Johnson fastball.
“As a hitter, you’re hoping to get a couple walks and maybe chink a flare in somewhere and beat him 1-0,” says Sorrento. “It feels good to be on the other side of it now.”
Others aren’t so fortunate. They have to face the slants of Johnson every fifth day, which usually means success for the Mariners. In 1995, the M’s went an amazing 27-3 in games Johnson started. When an irritated nerve in his lower back sidelined the 1995 Cy Young winner for much of the current season, Johnson was already 5-0 and leading the league in strikeouts-again! Before the injury Randy had won 25 of his last 27 decisions, and he was 34-5 in his last 52 starts.
Although he has missed several “fifth days” this season, the California native takes great pleasure in taking the hill and representing the Lord.
“The greatest feeling I get playing baseball right now is knowing that I can go out every fifth day and be a warrior for the Lord,” says Randy. “I can go out behind the mound and crouch down and say my prayer and then be a very aggressive, warrior-like pitcher, glorifying Him in that sense.
“Knowing that I can go among 50,000 fans and pray, and people take notice of that-it’s very gratifying to me.”
Randy’s relationship with God isn’t something he uses as a showpiece or as a good-luck charm. His faith in Jesus Christ is authentic. And more than being just a warrior-like pitcher, Randy Johnson is a prayer warrior.
He prays before, during and after games. He enjoys close communication with God through prayer.
“I do a lot of praying. I do a lot of talking to the Lord. It’s something I really enjoy,” says Johnson. “When people think I’m talking to myself-I’m doing a lot of praying. So I’m in constant contact with Him.”
The 32-year old pitcher is very honest about his relationship with Jesus Christ. He knew about Jesus for years. But he didn’t live for Him. Today, Randy knows the Lord in a very personal way. He knows the Lord in a way that many people don’t, but in a way that he would like them to.
“I’m sure a lot of people believe in the Lord, but they’re not committed to Him-they haven’t given their life to Him.”
“I think everybody realizes there is a Lord Jesus Christ. Whether they’re committed to Him or not, it’s gonna be important to them before they die to make that decision. We’re talking eternal life-we’re talking forever.”
Sound like a guy who is timid about the Gospel? Not a chance! Randy makes no more apologies for talking about his faith in Christ and his source of blessing than he does for tucking a fastball under somebody’s chin. Even when normal media types don’t want to hear it, Randy gives the credit for his success to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“I realize a lot of media people shut that out They want to know why you have so much success, but they don’t want to hear the real reason-because the Lord has given you the abilities.”
And the Lord has definitely given Randy Johnson extraordinary abilities. Abilities he has worked hard to develop, hone, and master.
Unlike the thrower who broke into the majors with the Montreal Expos in 1988, Johnson has mastered the slider, the fastball, and the art of intimidation. He is a compete pitcher-in every sense of the word.
His peers’ responses don’t lie.
“You just hope to see the ball out of his hand,” says Oakland A’s infielder Scott Brosius after he smiles, chuckles anxiously, and responds to an inquiry about the Mariners’ ace. “He is the ultimate power pitcher!”
Just mention the name and the players will tell you. Randy Johnson is the big league’s Mister Big.
By Rob Bentz
This story was published in the August 1996 issue of Sports Spectrum magazine. Click here to view the entire issue.
Yawn…yawn. Seemingly just another day at the office for point guard Steve Alford. The smooth 6-foot-2 senior led Indiana University to the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship this season, averaging 22 points a game. But his fluid movements on the floor belie the effort and diligence away from the camera that went into his contributions toward the team’s national title.
Alford ended his career as the Hoosiers’ four-time Most Valuable Player. He finished as the number 2 all-time scorer in the Big 10 Conference–a mere deuce behind Michigan’s Mike McGee…
To read our story on Hoosiers star and UCLA head coach Steve Alford from our Volume 1, Number 3 issue, click here.
For Cyrille Domoraud, the 2006 World Cup represented both the greatest triumph and most difficult challenge of his career.
In late 2005, Domoraud, then a 34-year-old fullback from Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), captained the Elephants’ national soccer team to its first-ever World Cup berth, a historic event that prompted a temporary ceasefire in the nation’s six-year civil war.
But Domoraud rode the bench the first two games—close losses to Argentina and the Netherlands—before getting a red card in the Elephants’ final game, a win over Serbia and Montenegro.
“It was a blow to feel like my efforts hadn’t been rewarded,” he says. “But that’s part of the job.”
Earlier in his career, Domoraud might have called the whole episode bad juju. As a native Ivorian, Domoraud grew up in a culture steeped in witchcraft. As a young player he used to wear a good luck ring—one of many talismans he owned, some of which he received from his parents—in the hopes of currying spiritual protection and fending off evil spirits. But thanks in part to the faithful witness of his sister, Domoraud became a Christian in 1999 and eschewed his superstitious upbringing.
By then, his impressive playing career was in full swing. After starting with several French clubs from 1992 to 1999, he spent a season with Italian Serie A giant Inter Milan in 1999-2000 before playing with teams in France, Spain, Turkey and, finally, his homeland. His last professional season came in 2008 with Africa Sports Abidjan.
Since retiring, he has devoted more time to his Cyrille Domoraud Training Centre in Abidjan, which has produced, among others, Ivorian striker Wilfried Bony of Swansea City (English Premier League). But Domoraud will always be remembered in the Ivory Coast as part of the famed 2006 World Cup team, despite the temporary frustrations that followed.
“I was just delighted to be at the World Cup and thank God for allowing me to be a part of it, for it was He who enabled me to go,” Domoraud says. “It was a miracle—a great moment He gave me in my life and in my career. I would never have thought about becoming a professional football player but for His leading. So rather than ask why the negative things happened, I thank God for the chance to be part of His kingdom and to play in the World Cup.”
By Joshua Cooley