[OLYMPICS] Kimido Hirai Soldati (Diver & a Christian)
- Wilkinson, Soldati share passion for diving, God
By: Darrell Hamlett , Assistant Sports Editor 7/14/2004
It's what drives athletes to become the best that they can be.
It also can be what turns two strangers into best friends.
In the case of Laura Wilkinson and Kimiko Soldati, it has done both.
The U.S. Olympic diving teammates have forged a strong friendship
based on their shared passions for diving and for God.
Diving is what first brought the Texas native and Colorado native
"We were actually good friends before from when we dived at the
Goodwill Games in 1998," said Soldati who grew up outside of Denver
and went to college at Indiana University. "We kept in contact
through e-mail and at diving meets."
Their relationship began to really grow in 2000 after Wilkinson won
the women's platform gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. Seeing
Wilkinson's success, Soldati decided to move to The Woodlands to
train with Wilkinson and her coach Kenny Armstrong.
"I think a lot of divers would have felt threatened about that,"
said Soldati. "I never thought about how I would have felt in her
shoes, but Laura opened her arms and welcomed me."
Wilkinson says Soldati is a person that it's hard not to want to
"Kimiko, it's hard not to love her," she said. "She's just awesome.
She's a great friend and an awesome role model. ... She's inspiring
everyday with the way she speaks. She has so much insight into
everything. She's great."
Training together every day helped strengthen their relationship as
well as their diving. The two have combined to win four individual
national titles since 2000 as well as earned several top finishes in
other national and international events.
Their diving relationship reached a peak earlier this year when they
began training as synchronized partners on the 10-meter platform. At
the XIVth FINA Diving World Cup, they earned a spot in the Olympics
for the Americans by finishing fourth.
Wilkinson and Soldati were hoping to be able to be the ones to
represent to the U.S. in that event in Athens, but last month they
finished second to Sarah Hildebrand and Cassandra Cardinell at the
U.S. Olympic Trials.
"It was very disappointing," said Wilkinson. "Our dreams were to
make it together. We brought back the Olympic spot and we wanted to
take it. We were just off and didn't do it. But we did it together
and enjoyed the experience. And we both made the team together."
"It was disappointing," added Soldati. "Laura and I felt that we had
a legitimately good shot to medal at the Athens games, so it was
difficult to swallow.
Despite not qualifying in the synchro event, Wilkinson and Soldati
each made the team in individual events. Wilkinson earned a chance
to defend her platform gold by finishing first in that event while
Soldati won the 3-meter springboard at the Trials.
One of the ways Soldati and Wilkinson got through their
disappointment at the Trials was by relying on their other passion,
"If isn't God's will, we have to be OK," said Soldati. "We were not
happy. It's a bummer we're not diving there together, but God has a
plan and He'll make good. We trust that. It was difficult and
upsetting, but God's will be done."
It is their shared faith in God that has helped draw Wilkinson and
Soldati closer together away from the pool. A devout Christian,
Wilkinson was one of the reasons Soldati began to develop her faith
"One thing that drew me to Christ was seeing the peace that those
who had Christ in their life had," said Soldati. "I realized that
they have something that I wanted. I researched and looked into it.
I wanted to get it all figured out. I read the Bible, I asked
questions to try to figure it all out. But ultimately it's a step of
faith which is something no one can explain because that is what
Despite learning from those around her, Soldati had a difficult time
finally turning her life over to Christ.
"I had a difficult time because my whole life I thought I could
control everything," she said. "My pride was so big I thought I
don't need anybody else. I was so strong I could do everything on my
own. So it was difficult for me to accept, but it was the best thing
I've ever done. I found peace, calmness, and love like you wouldn't
Soldati said Wilkinson and her strong faith had a big influence on
her and her decision to follow Christ.
"I think God put her in my path for a reason. She helped bring me to
know Him better," she said. "It's a unique and rare thing to have
two athletes who share a strong Christian faith and realize why they
are doing what they are doing. Before I found Christ, I wanted to
win gold. Now that I've come to Christ, and Laura helped reveal this
to me, diving isn't who I am, it's what I do. I'm only able to do it
because God gifted me."
Likewise, Wilkinson said that Soldati has impacted her walk with God.
"We pray before events and look things up in the Bible. She's a huge
part of my growth with Jesus in the last few years. It's awesome to
share that with somebody."
This year, Wilkinson and Soldati's shared passions combined in a
wonderful way for the duo as they trained together as synchro
"We had so much fun," said Soldati. "Those few months training
together were the time of my life. Up there, the whole world fell
away. We would smile, sing. We were diving for God and for each
While they won't be diving together in the synchro in Athens,
Wilkinson and Soldati are glad to be heading to the Games together.
"I think I was more excited when she made the team than when I did,"
And no matter what happens at the Olympics, Wilkinson and Soldati
know they've got more to their friendship and their lives than just
"When we were diving synchro, we knew who we were diving for," said
Soldati. "We wanted to win and we trained to win, but there's a
larger purpose well beyond medals, placement, and results."
I know that God has been working in my life and ordering my steps
well before I knew anything about Him. I did not grow up knowing
anything about God or who He was or that I could have a relationship
I was a gymnast for many years, but had a knee injury that ended my
gym career. It brought me into diving and through Colorado State,
to Indiana where I met my husband to down here to train in the
Woodlands with my coach Kenny and ultimately to find Jesus.
When I arrived here, Kenny asked me one day if I knew Jesus. I
actually laughed at him because I didn't want or think I had a need
for Jesus or anyone for that matter. I was in control of my life
and I could make anything happen by my strength. I was living at
the Yarbroughs, friends of my family from Colorado and they let my
husband and I live with them until we built our house. They were
coming to the Ark and had invited us to come along. We went one
Sunday and I was surprised at myself that I like it and Pastor Alan
was so amazing and real.
We continued to come to church and I had a hunger in me to figure
out what this whole Christian thing was about. I asked a lot of
questions to Don and Peggy, and I saw how they lived and I saw Alan
and Joy and I saw that they had something that I didn't have and
that I wanted.
I saw peace.
So I started reading the Bible and poured through the whole thing.
I was extremely resistant to saying yes to Jesus, it went so against
my nature and every time Alan led the prayer, I would sit on my
hands and say no way, not yet. I had a big problem with the whole
faith thing. I wanted to get it all figured out and understand it
all before I made a decision, but that is not faith.
Finally after months and months of agonizing over the decision to
say yes, my husband and I raised our hands and I was saved. Now,
after I raised my hands, I was like- "This is it?". I feel exactly
the same, I still have all the same questions, same doubts- I guess
I was expecting lighting bolts and angels singing. So I continued
learning and trying to `get' this whole Christian thing.
One day on my way to Nationals, I was reading a book by Christian
athletes talking about giving it to God, letting it go to God and
glorifying God. I didn't `get' it. I told Adam, I don't
understand. What do they mean? I was frustrated because I didn't
feel what they meant.
So I am on the plane and I guess I am praying, didn't really know
what that was, but God gave me a vision. I am underground, in a
tunnel. And I am digging away at the tunnel with my fingers trying
to get where I wanted to be as fast as I could do it.
Dirt is flying, my hands are sore, I am sweating but doggone it, I
will get there! As I am digging, I realize there is someone
standing next to me. I kind of turn to see who it is, and it was
Jesus. I don't stop my digging, but say to myself, that's nice-I
guess, hi how are ya, I got work to do.
So I am back to my digging. Dirt is flying less, things are going
slower and I am starting to get tired. So as I'm digging, I notice
that the guy, Jesus, next to me has a shovel. `Ok' I thought, `He
wants to help me out here'.
After some time, I finally stop digging and turn to Him and accept
the shovel. There, I've accepted help and in spite of my pride
realize it would be nice to have a little help. So I turn back to
my wall and start using the shovel. Yea, I think. This is so much
easier. I have a second wind and continue digging away.
Things are going much faster, much easier and I'm getting where I
want to be more efficiently. But, as time moves on, I am tired.
Really tired. Really, really tired. I am barely getting the shovel
up to dig into the wall. My hands are killing me and my whole being
is sore. I lean on my shovel and say to myself, `I am so sick and
tired of doing this on my own. I can't do this any more. I just
It is all too much and I don't want to do this anymore. Then I
realize Jesus is standing there with his hands held out, palms up.
I look at his hands, then at His face.
I realize then, He wants me to give Him the shovel. I turn to Him.
I have a questionable look on my dirt-smeared face. `You want me to
give You the shovel?' Whoa. I am totally freaked out.
I look at my options, continue to try and do this on my own in my
own strength, with sore and aching muscles, not making much
progress, frustrated, exhausted, discouraged, or let Him do it.
I slowly raise my shovel, holding- no gripping my shovel above his
outstretched hands. I stand there frozen. I am terrified. I am in
a place I have never been in, in all my life. I look up at his
sweet face. `I am so scared to give this to you.'
He speaks to me in a soft and gentle voice. `It's ok to be scared,
I am here.' Panicking I say `I really don't want to give this to
you. What if you don't take me where I want to be. What if you
start digging in another direction, what if I want to be there and
you take me here, what if, what if, what if.' He doesn't try and
talk me into it. He just comforts me. He soothes me. I know by
His presence He could stand there for eternity holding his arms out
to take my shovel. "I am not going anywhere," he whispers.
My knuckles are white on my sore hands gripping my shovel above his
nail-scarred hands. I sit like this for what feels like forever.
Probably ten minutes. I am bawling in my seat on the plane, the
fellow next to me probably thinks I am insane. I don't care. My
fingers begin to loosen on the handle, it is so hard to move my
fingers which have been gripping the wood, hanging on for dear
I look into His eyes and all I see is love and acceptance. I lower
the shovel until it rests on His hands and with my heart pounding
out of my chest, tears streaming down my face I finally let go. I
feel release. I feel freedom. I feel frightened but safe. I
understand that I will let Him do the digging. I will let Him do
the leading. I will be there the whole time in that tunnel with
Him, right beside Him doing it together. I will follow where He
leads me. I know I can trust Him with my shovel.
So, after this defining experience I open my eyes. The poor guy
next doesn't know what to do. I wipe off my tears and my snot, and
I open the book I was reading that morning with my husband. Wow- I
get it! I get it- I really get it.
Now I understand what it means to let it go.
Now I understand what it means to give it to God.
The scales had fallen from my eyes and I understand how He wants to
be in my life. He is control of my shovel and He is the one digging
and navigating my tunnels of life. I still struggle with control.
Sometimes I find myself without knowing it, that I've pushed Him out
of the way and started digging again with my fingers.
With dirt flying and my hands frantically clawing at the walls, I
realize what I've done. I stop. Embarrassed, I turn around to Him
as He stands waiting for me stop. I lower my head and say I'm
sorry. He lifts my chin and says, "It's ok, I love you." I step
aside and clear the way for Him to take up my shovel and continue
I can't tell you how many times I have `taken my shovel back' but I
know He is faithful to be patient with me and will never get fed up
with me and walk out my tunnel. He is in it for the long haul,
through the darkness, dampness, and impenetrable walls. He will be
there. And so will I.