Missionary: Skating on thick faith

Chris Obzansky postpones promising ice skating future to serve a mission

The same faith that fueled Chris Obzansky's rise to prominence as a U.S. figure skater is the same faith that prompted him to walk away from a promising future to serve a mission.

"I want to teach people about a religion that has truly changed my life," he said. "No one is making me serve. It is something I believe and want to do."

Now in the Provo Missionary Training Center preparing to serve in the Baltic Mission, Elder Obzansky hung up his skates after 10 years of intense training and winning a bedpost full of medals, including the silver medal at the 1999 State Farm U.S. Championships and eighth place in the Ice Dance Division in his first year in the senior division of the U.S. Championships in January.

Missions require sacrifice, and every young man or woman serving a mission can tell a story of similar sacrifice. Elder Obzansky chose to forsake the international limelight for the unheralded prospects of blessing others.

"Serving someone and knowing that you made a difference in his life is probably the greatest feeling on earth," Elder Obzansky told others as he described his desire to serve.

Chris Obzansky laced up his first boots at age 2 when his grandfather — who loved skating — gave him a pair of double-bladed ice skates for Christmas. During the winter, he and his family skated at his grandfather's lake house in central New Jersey.

His sisters found no joy in skating, but Chris became "hooked." By age 9, he was a serious skater. During the next years, he competed in 10 countries, learning to cherish those he met who "taught me some good quality or trait that I could apply in my life."

Among those good times were moments spent sipping hot chocolate with his skating partner, Kendra Goodwin, between training sessions. "Kendra is a wonderful skater who will be successful in whatever she decides to do in life," he said. "She always does her best and puts her heart into achieving her goals."

When he was 16, his family moved from the small town of Elkton, Md., to Salt Lake City, Utah. But because of obligations to coaches and his skating partner, he moved to Newark, Del., where he continued to train five hours a day, five days a week, at the world-class facilities on the University of Delaware campus.

He rented a room with two returned missionaries who had served in Brazil and Dominican Republic. "They gave me a lot of support, advice and made sure I stayed on track," Elder Obzansky said. "I always felt the Spirit when they talked about mission experiences. They were the best roommates a young man preparing for his mission could have."

Yet, his decision to serve didn't come easily. He considered postponing his mission until after the 2006 Olympics. His bishop in the Newark Ward, Wilmington Delaware Stake, counseled him to seek guidance from the Lord and pray "endlessly" if the answer didn't come quickly.

"I did not receive an immediate answer," he said. Moments of doubt tested his resolve, but he continued praying and intently studying the scriptures, a process, he said, "that softened his heart to receive an answer."

About a year before he entered the Missionary Training Center, he was in sacrament meeting listening to his Young Men adviser speak when "the Spirit touched my heart." He had the distinct impression that he needed to serve at age 19. The impression was clear that he would not serve if he waited until the Olympics.

"The Lord wanted to make sure I got the point," Elder Obzansky said. Later that day in priesthood meeting, "I felt an even stronger impression to serve. I knew I had to change my plans," he said.

Later that evening, Elder Obzansky told his skating partner and coaches that he would complete the season then serve a mission when he turned 19. "They were disappointed with my decision. However, I felt they supported me," he said.

Now in a white shirt and tie like all the missionaries, he applies the same passion he had for skating to learning the Russian language and the missionary discussions. Sharing the gospel with the people in the Baltic States is a performance he couldn't miss.

E-mail: [email protected]