If you’re involved in sports, you’ve probably heard this: You can’t afford to take two years off for a mission. You’ll lose your scholarship, you’ll lose your skills, and you’ll lose your edge. You won’t have the fire for the sport anymore.
Nate Soelberg can tell you that those warnings are not true.
Nate was a standout in track and football while he was in high school. In college he not only ran, he also worked hard to eventually earn a spot on the football team—and then he left it behind so he could serve as a missionary in Norway for two years.
Some people wondered if he would be able to get back into form again when he came home. Nate wondered a bit too. But, he says, “I knew if I followed the Lord, He would bless me, that it wasn’t going to be a major setback.”
After his mission, he was able to earn a starting spot as cornerback on the Brigham Young University football team and a scholarship. On the track, the spring after he returned from his mission, he kept cutting his times in the 100 meters until he ended the season winning the conference championship. “Every single race I got better,” he says.
So was there some connection between the spiritual strength he gained while serving a mission and recapturing his physical ability? Nate thinks so: “I believe it was one of the blessings I had from going on a mission and serving the Lord.”
The successes came at a price, of course: hard work. Staying in shape for competitive sports “takes a toll on your body,” Nate says. After workouts, “it’s really hard to come home and do anything. You just want to rest.” He has developed the habit of doing his homework between classes during the day to keep up. “I’ve learned to manage my time wisely.”
Nate started in sports at age five when he played on a T-ball team. Later, he enjoyed playing basketball. He started track competition in junior high school and joined the football team his first year in high school.
He started preparing for his mission at a young age, too. “Sometimes in my life, I felt nervous about going, but I always knew I wanted to go.”
Norway was cold, in more than one way. He remembers looking at his reflection in a window and seeing frost in his eyebrows and ice on his eyelashes. He remembers serving for two years and having just one baptism, near the end. And he remembers how much he enjoyed it all.
“Most people think it’s just hard work, which it is.” But Nate was surprised at how good it made him feel to serve others. It made him happy to work with members. They “just embrace the missionaries,” he said. Their friendship was warm when it was cold everywhere else.
Did he ever get discouraged? “It’s hard not to,” Nate says. “I just kind of stuck it through. I don’t really hold on to things that discourage me. I put them in the past and move on.” And if a week was hard, he knew things would be better on Sunday when the missionaries could meet with members. “It was never a bad day at church.”
Nate’s dad, Steve Soelberg, says his son learned a lot about hard work from winning and losing when he was younger. “He knows that to get the wins you have to work for them.”
Nate also knows that you don’t win, no matter what the scoreboard says, if you’re not living the way the Lord wants you to. “If your mind isn’t in tune with the Lord, it is hard for the Lord to help you, and I know athletes need the help.”
Everyone needs help, he says. Nate prays often, for help in life, for help in doing his best on the field, for protection from injuries. He prays not just for himself, but for those around him too.
“I feel like I have help from the Lord. I just try to live so I’ll be worthy of it.”
Now Nate prays also for the family he is just beginning. He married Jessica Ashcroft in April this year.
Just because he prays, he doesn’t always win—at least not on the scoreboard. “There are things sometimes that don’t go my way, and I know I need to learn from those.” When that happens, he does what he did in the mission field: he learns, he puts the hard times behind him, and he moves on.