Ventures athletes combine exercise with praying the Stations of the Cross as a way to imitate, emulate Jesus' Passion

MADISON HEIGHTS — Well, how did you greet another Lent?

Some 40 student-athletes at Madison Heights Bishop Foley welcomed the dawn of the first three days — Ash Wednesday, Thursday and Friday — by getting to school an hour early to go through an intensive half-hour workout.

“You’ve already done the hardest part,” a much-too-bright-eyed-for-7-a.m. football coach Brian Barnes told them, adding, “Kids last year said this was one of their favorite things.” For the second year, Barnes was guiding the SportsLeader Stations of the Cross Workout: “A March to Greatness,” a combination of exercises and praying the Stations.

He added: “This will be an opportunity for you to find out about yourself, to go when it is uncomfortable to go, to develop into a responsible human being.”

SportsLeader (sportsleader.org), based in Louisville, Ky., is a Catholic virtue-based formation program for coaches.

In three years’ time, it has caught on in nearly two dozen states and Canada with its programs aimed at enabling athletes to relate to Jesus in an environment — the gym — that they are familiar with. Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth uses the program for its grade school athletes.

The purpose of the Lenten program is to help athletes grow closer to Christ by experiencing the fatigue, sweat and effort that Our Lord suffered in his Passion and death through physical activity.

The stations are apportioned 5-5-4: 1-5 the first day, 6-10 the second, and 11-14 the third day. At each station, a brief meditation is followed by an exercise. Fourteen Stations of the Cross, 14 exercises.

Bishop Foley football coach Brian Barnes encourages his athletes to think about each other and Jesus' sacrifice as they work out during Stations of the Cross at the Madison Heights school. 

Here’s a capsulized version of what went on along with a reflection by some of the participants:

1st Station: Jesus is condemned to death: Theme: Gratitude. Exercise: 25 pushups. Jesus did nothing wrong and was condemned to death. Do we ever thank him for that? Let’s thank him right now by giving him our best workout with all our effort.

2nd Station: Jesus carries his cross: Determination. 25 squat jumps. Jesus is determined to show us that he is willing to suffer anything for us. How many times do we work out truly doing it for our teammates? Let’s embrace the challenge ... like Jesus embraced his cross. Let’s get stronger for our teammates; let’s get stronger so we can serve better.

Katy Totty (sophomore; cheerleader, volleyball): “When we are suffering during workouts, we are sharing in Jesus’ sufferings.”

3rd Station: Jesus falls for the first time: Commitment. 50 crunches. We fall many times as well. We fall short of our goals at times. Jesus went through this as well. But He didn’t quit. Let’s show that same commitment. Let’s never give up on our teammates.

4th Station: Jesus meets his mother: Motivation. 25 burpees. Mary was doing everything she could to support her Son. She was the perfect teammate. During our workouts we should be constantly looking for ways to encourage one another.

5th Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross: Camaraderie. Sprints. But once Simon began to help Jesus, he grew to know him, respect him and love him. Let’s build true camaraderie on this team. With everyone! One team, one heart, one purpose.

Luke Juricic (junior; football, powerlifting): “(The workout) brings us closer together. As Christians, we have to bond together to help each other.”

6th Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus: Courage. 2 minute lunges. One extremely courageous, bold, brave woman risks her life by wiping Jesus’ face with her cloth. How often do we give in to our fears of what others might say or do? Let nothing hold us back from helping.

7th Station: Jesus falls for the second time: Perseverance. 2 minute wall sits. Imitate Jesus on his way to Calvary. He fell down again and again, and every time he got back up. Let’s persevere as a team, let’s fulfill our mission.

Jack Decker (junior; All Catholic cross country and track): “The Stations helped me come closer to Jesus, to persevere in life and in sports.”

8th Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem: Selfless. 2 minute leg lifts. Jesus is being marched to his death and he still takes time to encourage others. Let’s imitate our Lord. Encourage one another to go harder, finish stronger.

Cameron Behnke (sophomore; football, basketball, baseball): “Jesus suffered; we’re suffering, too, getting up early. We have to put in the work just as Jesus did for us.”

9th Station: Jesus falls for the third time: Relentlessness. 2 minutes passing medicine ball. We want to achieve a personal best, see improvement, and we fail. But Jesus was relentless. He always got back up. Jesus teaches us to forget about the failures and focus on the finish.

Cameron Lawton (sophomore; basketball, lacrosse): “Struggling during the workouts reminds me how Jesus struggled carrying the cross; I saw for the first time (the value of) getting up early for something that I really want.”

10th Station: Jesus' clothes are taken away: Tough. 2 minute agility. Forced to carry a cross, and now stripped in public. Never let anyone tell you that Jesus wasn’t tough. He took it because he wanted you to be able to look at him when your life got rough and know that he is with you, and with him you can conquer anything.

11th Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross: Sacrifice. 2 minute waterfall burpee. That’s what Jesus’ crucifixion was all about: offering himself for us. Who are you offering this workout for? This workout should be a prayer that we are offering up to God for others.

Grant Gutierrez (freshman; football, basketball, baseball): “Lent is about sacrifice. This is one small step, one way to honor Jesus.”

12th Station: Jesus dies on the cross: Passion. 2 minute squat jumps. Every athlete dreams of being on a team ... where everyone is absolutely 100 percent ALL IN. Was anyone more passionate, more ALL IN than Jesus? Let’s have the passion to give our lives for him and our teammates.

13th Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross: Loyalty. 2 minute wall sits. While Jesus was hanging in agony on the cross, Mary, Mary Magdalene and John were there for him. They were loyal. Are you that kind of teammate? Can every one of your teammates count on you to be there for them when adversity hits?

14th Station: Jesus is placed in the tomb: Hope. Medicine ball relay. Jesus’ Passion and death were not the end. It was only the beginning. This workout should renew us, give us hope and strengthen us both individually and as a team. We can conquer anything in this life; we can conquer temptation, we can conquer peer pressure, we can conquer our weaknesses. In Christ we can conquer.

We’re on Jesus’ team. Sounds like a workout we all should do.

Contact Don Horkey at dhorkey@wowway.com.