Perhaps no one has dominated a sport like Tamika Catchings. For the past 15 years, she has been the face of the WNBA, and her team, the Indiana Fever.
She recently retired at the age of 37, taking many of the league’s records with her. A 10-time all-star, she leaves the game as the all-time leader in rebounds and steals, and second in points, as well as being highly ranked in other categories. She also has four Olympic gold medals as a member of the USA women’s basketball team going back to 2004.
In fact, the USA women’s Olympic teams went 32-0 with Catchings as a member. Her reputation off the court has also been stellar.
During her entire career, Catchings has selflessly given to the community both personally and through her Catch the Stars Foundation. She will patiently sign every autograph and rarely turns down interview requests. In 2012, she told me, “Even when you have the accolades that I have, you still have a responsibility as to how you treat your teammates, how you treat others, the way you carry yourself. That’s more important than what you do on the court.”
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Ironically, little has been said in the media about the true basis for her life, her strong Christian faith.
Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to interview her a number of times, specifically asking about where Christ fits into her life and her game. Most recently, she told me this concerning her faith: “It’s everything. It’s who I am. Without God in my life, and without my faith, I wouldn’t be where I am at.”
She has suffered through a number of injuries, including knee surgeries, a torn achilles tendon, and a torn plantar fascia. In fact, it was an injury during her senior year at the University of Tennessee that strengthened her spiritually.
Expecting a successful pro career, she hurt her knee and was sidelined. She relates that during her time of rehab, God gave her a peace that brought her through. That continues to this day.
“It’s because of him, I’m here, and the energy he feeds me, and the Scriptures that I am constantly reading. That’s the driving force of my life,” she said.
She has never been afraid to share her faith both publicly and privately with her friends. One of her friends and mentors was her coach at the University of Tennessee, the legendary Pat Summit, who recently died from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. When the coach was first diagnosed with the disease, Catchings went to be with her friend, who shared the Christian faith. They prayed and had a Bible study together.
Life hasn’t always been easy for the Fever leader. Born in New Jersey, her father is Harvey Catchings, who had a professional career with a number of teams in the NBA. The family moved to Duncanvville, Texas, where she had an outstanding career, but a hearing disability subjected her to taunting and bullying.
This has led to a particular love for kids. She said it comes from the things she had to go through and the things she had to deal with growing up.
When speaking to a group of kids, her humility shines through.
She will ask, “How many of you wear glasses? How many have speech difficulties? How many of you have been bullied? How many of you like sports?”
All hands go up. She then says, “These are all of the things I have experienced, or I like. Look around. We have something in common.”
She wants to make the point that she shouldn’t be on a pedestal, because her life has not been perfect like they might imagine. She talks about her scars and emphasizes that through her faith, she has been able to turn the negatives into positives. In fact, she emphasized this in the final words of an interview that I had with her in 2012. She relies on a common verse, Philippians 4:13, which says, “ I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
She continued, “My physical injuries are just that, they are physical, but he is all, he is almighty, He is the healer. He can give me the strength to get through.”
It’s a new life for Catchings now. Her career ended quietly when the Phoenix Mercury eliminated the Fever in Round 1 of the playoffs, though Catchings led her team with 13 points and 10 rebounds. In the past year, she has married, and now looks to a new phase of her life. In 2014, she related this in a TV interview.
“I am so thankful and blessed to have had the opportunity to play the game that I have loved for so long. God has truly blessed me with an amazing playing career, and now it is time for me to begin transitioning to what he has for me beyond the lines of the basketball floor.”
To those who know the Lord, that may be as exciting as to what she has done during the past 15 years.
Columbus’ Tom Rust is founder of the national Face To Face sports ministry, a local radio sports broadcaster, and pastor of Sardinia Baptist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.