Like the rest of the world, I have been glued to the Olympic coverage over the past few days. There is something special about the most elite athletes in the world representing their country. Not too long ago, I dreamed of being an Olympian, but with one accident my dream collapsed.
It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
After graduating high school as the top wrestler in Texas and one of the best in the nation, I moved to the Olympic Training Center with the dream of joining the U.S.A. Olympic wrestling team. At 18 years old, I was on an adventure of a lifetime.
Not long into my training, I was injured in a practice match with a fellow athlete. I was unable to continue training while I argued with insurance about treatment. As weeks turned to months, I fell behind and saw my Olympic hopes fade away.
To cope with the pain from the injury and to deal with the disappointment of losing my dream, I began taking narcotics and was soon hooked. I dropped out of Olympic training and took up MMA fighting, instead.
My elite training in wrestling made me a formidable MMA fighter, and my career began to take off. I appeared on Spike’s “The Ultimate Fighter” and soon landed a contract with UFC. However, the addiction that began in the Olympic Training Center continued. Before I knew it, addiction to narcotics had led to dependency on alcohol and other drugs. I was out of control.
Coaches, friends and family tried to help me, but no one could combat my addiction. Yet, addiction wasn’t my real problem. Something was missing in my life that no amount of success, whether Olympic or in the UFC, could fill.
Eventually, a friend invited me to a men’s retreat, and I encountered God for the first time. Almost instantly, the desire for drugs was gone, and I was clean after two weeks. I have never done drugs since.
I’ve found something much more important than athletic success. God revealed his ultimate plan for my life on a mission trip where I discovered the Pygmies in the Congo, who were enslaved, starving and impoverished. After experiencing their suffering, I committed to giving them a voice and working to bring them clean water, land and food. Today, I’m fighting for them rather than myself.
As I watch the Olympic athletes compete, some of whom are my friends, I can’t help but be grateful that I lost that dream. If I hadn’t, I would still be chasing medals and success to fill the void in my life. I would never have known the peace that comes from a relationship with God, and I would have never met my Pygmy family deep in the jungles of the Congo.
Wrestling for my country would have been a great honor, but God’s plan for me was different. I’m so glad He used my failed Olympic dream to help me find my ultimate purpose — fighting for those the world has forgotten and those lost in darkness, just like I was.
Justin Wren is a MMA fighter for Bellator and the founder of Fight for the Forgotten, an initiative to bring land, clean water and food initiatives to the Pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His story is chronicled in his book, “Fight for the Forgotten.”