by Todd Lewys
He’s only 30 years old, but Andy Finch has been through a lot.
At 12 years of age—after skiing for several years under the tutelage of his father—he was smitten by the extreme sport of snowboarding. By 2004—at the age of 23—he had won two U.S. Grand Prix Halfpipe titles in his chosen sport. Finch was an athlete who enjoyed a world of talent, but was largely floating through life in a hedonistic fog.
It was then that his life began to, most appropriately, change in a radical manner.
“I was raised in a Christian home, but I guess everyone has to learn for themselves,” says the Fresno, California, native. “Once I was on my own doing what I loved to do and doing well, I enjoyed a lot of freedom. There were a lot of bad influences in the snow. Everything came to a head when I was 23, 24 years old.”
More precisely, Finch knew it was time to clean up his act. “To put it bluntly, the fear of the Lord came over me. What I was doing—the partying, and in particular sexual promiscuity, was eating away at me,” he recalls. “Suddenly, I had a sense of conviction that I was doing things I shouldn’t be doing. At one point, I let down my guard and moved in with a girl, something I said I’d never do. At that point, I knew I had to walk away.”
That was when the muscular Californian pressed in to a God he’d left on the sidelines for more years than he cared to admit. “I just prayed for strength to quit doing those things. I started reading the Bible, and realized the consequences of my actions. I was living in sin. It was then that I realized that God had been walking with me the whole time,” Finch says. “When it came time to turn my life around, He was there.”
As anyone who invites Christ into their life knows, with that invitation comes a life unlike that which they lived before. Which is to say, life becomes a very challenging series of events, both good and bad.
About a year after making a full and unreserved commitment to Christ, one of those good events happened.
“That’s when I met my wife Amber,” he says. “That’s where I see that God really blessed my decision. Even at that point, I was still weak. Amber really helped straighten me out. The hand of God was pointing directly to her, showing me that she was the one for me. Marrying her was one of the best decisions I’ve every made. What a blessing she’s been.”
Next came the start of Finch’s believe-it-or-not Christian life: the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, where he was a member of the U.S. Snowboarding team. Despite having to watch teammates Shaun White and Danny Kass take gold and silver medals in the halfpipe event and finishing a disappointing 12th, he himself remains philosophical about how thing turned out.
“It was a great experience,” he says, no hint of bitterness in his voice. “I might not of handled the disappointment as well if I didn’t have my faith.”
Tested to the limits
Then, during the first year of Finch’s marriage to Amber, his faith was tested to its limits: his father was involved in a high-speed police chase, opened fire on the officers and was critically injured by a gunshot to the head. The incident wasn’t a total shock, he admits.
“He had been in a downward spiral for some time with his mind. We could see it, but to him, nothing was wrong. It was a tough situation; one I knew would end up in the hands of the police. It turns out he was suffering from both post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.”
Competing in Europe, Finch rushed back to the U.S., enduring 36 hours of travel along the way. Upon returning home, he learned his dad had been shot seven times and was paralyzed after taking several bullets in the neck.
“That’s when God really met me,” he says. “On the way back, I had total peace of mind and knew things were going to work out. I felt in my spirit that I would see him alive when I got there.”
Finch is still close to his father, who he says has a strong faith in God. Still, he didn’t mince words when he first spoke to his dad, who had always been his best friend.
“I told him what he did was wrong, but that I still loved him,” he says. “We’re optimistic. He has no criminal record and served his country in Vietnam, hence the post-traumatic stress disorder. Our lawyers have made a deal with the district attorney. There’s not going to be a trial, and charges have been reduced to assault with a firearm,” Finch explains, adding his dad has made an amazing recovery.
“We’ll just have to see what the judge will do, and to see what good God will bring out of it. I’m proud of him. He’s not bitter, and trusts the Lord that things will work out.”
2010 Winter Olympics
As he was preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympic trials, Finch found himself at the crossroads, but a good sort of crossroads: he was now one of the older shredders looking to make the team, while coming off reconstructive surgery to his right shoulder. Not to mention promoting his film, One Year.
Of all things, he’s now considered a veteran—and a filmmaker.
“Yeah, I’m considered one of the old dogs, and the 2010 Olympics could be my last shot. I’m just going to give the trials my best shot and leave the rest up to the Lord. After that, I want to do more filming, maybe go back to my roots in Fresno.”
He admits that these days, as much as he still enjoys showing the young guys how to do it on the slopes, it’s filmmaking that’s captured his heart.
“We made One Year to show people what our lives are all about. It’s really an outreach project, as we want to share our faith and give kids that option,” Finch says. “It’s a platform we can use to get kids thinking about God; our goal is to reach kids who haven’t heard the gospel before. If one kid gives his life to Christ, it will have been worthwhile.”
While some kids have walked out of showings—not having expected to see their hero spout “religious” content—he remains intent on doing what he can to bring the gospel to the snowboarding crowd. Things are slowly turning around, he says.
“More guys are now reaching for the strength the Lord has to offer,” says Finch. “At first, it was tough. There weren’t really any Christian snowboarders other than myself. Am I an example to others? I guess so, but I just see myself as a stepping-stone. All the glory goes to God. Still, I have to be so careful to work hard to walk God’s line, because I’m being watched. All I want people to understand is this: we’re all sinners, but thanks to the grace of God, we’re forgiven. God has transformed my life, and He can transform anyone’s.”
Todd Lewys is a veteran sports writer and fitness enthusiast.
The article above was featured in the January 2010 issue of SEVEN magazine.