Catholic Athletes for Christ retreat a spiritual boost for student athletes, coaches

March 22, 2023 at 8:00 p.m.
Catholic Athletes for Christ retreat a spiritual boost for student athletes, coaches
Catholic Athletes for Christ retreat a spiritual boost for student athletes, coaches

John Spinelli

Tracy Gaurette, a former University of Maine basketball player and now one of Maine’s top distance runners, shared an important life lesson with student athletes during a March 18 Catholic Athletes for Christ retreat: “When the race gets tough, I just offer it up to God.”

Catholic high school athletes and coaches from Donovan Catholic, Toms River; Holy Cross  Preparatory Academy, Delran, and Red Bank Catholic High School, Red Bank, gathered in St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, to hear a slate of speakers reflect on the importance of faith as a foundation for sports.

Joining Gaurette as presenters were Grace Mancini, all-American steeplechaser for LaSalle University, and keynoter Anthony Ferraro, SJV alumnus whose story as a high-school wrestler born blind was the subject of the documentary “A Shot in the Dark.”

Mark Houck, founder of The King’s Men, a Catholic lay apostolate, and Dan Duddy, Donovan Catholic football coach and a CAC director, led the retreat.

Mancini shared the frustrating experience of missing the Olympic trials by milliseconds, acknowledging, “I knew [God] had a plan. I ran for seventeen years and was satisfied. I learned faith with sport not only transforms you as an athlete, but it makes you a better person for life.”

She emphasized that, as with running, “a person needs strength to keep on going. God is our strength, both mentally and physically. Similar to running a race, you need to train and prepare. The same concept is true with your faith.”

For Gaurette, sports is an opportunity to foster virtue. She credits Scripture and the sacraments as having made a difference during college. She stressed that the practice of offering up her efforts to God made all the difference. ”As my faith grew, I was getting better at playing, and to my surprise, at the end of my freshman year coach offered me a scholarship.”
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During his keynote address, Ferraro shared a moving personal testimony. "By 14, I was angry at God. I lost my older brother, my mom was injured, in a coma, and I was rejected from many high schools at the same time. I thought to God, why?"

Life began to change when Ferraro received a letter from St. John Vianney High School. “They said they would accommodate me; since then it became a home for me. I knew Coach Pat Smith … and with my training and goals, I started to get more wins,” Ferraro added.

Ferraro ended his high school career with more than 100 wins. His story inspired millions on social media and his documentary film led to an unexpected call from the U.S. Paralympic team to train as a Judo athlete. As a member of Team USA, Ferraro has earned two gold, one silver, and two bronze medals since 2017. He is now training in that sport for the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.

Looking back on the retreat, Zachary Martin, a senior on the SJV volleyball team, said, “It was good today. During my matches, my mind is in so many places. I’m focused on how my body feels or how I am competing. But today’s retreat was a great reminder for me to stay focused on something greater.”


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Tracy Gaurette, a former University of Maine basketball player and now one of Maine’s top distance runners, shared an important life lesson with student athletes during a March 18 Catholic Athletes for Christ retreat: “When the race gets tough, I just offer it up to God.”

Catholic high school athletes and coaches from Donovan Catholic, Toms River; Holy Cross  Preparatory Academy, Delran, and Red Bank Catholic High School, Red Bank, gathered in St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, to hear a slate of speakers reflect on the importance of faith as a foundation for sports.

Joining Gaurette as presenters were Grace Mancini, all-American steeplechaser for LaSalle University, and keynoter Anthony Ferraro, SJV alumnus whose story as a high-school wrestler born blind was the subject of the documentary “A Shot in the Dark.”

Mark Houck, founder of The King’s Men, a Catholic lay apostolate, and Dan Duddy, Donovan Catholic football coach and a CAC director, led the retreat.

Mancini shared the frustrating experience of missing the Olympic trials by milliseconds, acknowledging, “I knew [God] had a plan. I ran for seventeen years and was satisfied. I learned faith with sport not only transforms you as an athlete, but it makes you a better person for life.”

She emphasized that, as with running, “a person needs strength to keep on going. God is our strength, both mentally and physically. Similar to running a race, you need to train and prepare. The same concept is true with your faith.”

For Gaurette, sports is an opportunity to foster virtue. She credits Scripture and the sacraments as having made a difference during college. She stressed that the practice of offering up her efforts to God made all the difference. ”As my faith grew, I was getting better at playing, and to my surprise, at the end of my freshman year coach offered me a scholarship.”
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During his keynote address, Ferraro shared a moving personal testimony. "By 14, I was angry at God. I lost my older brother, my mom was injured, in a coma, and I was rejected from many high schools at the same time. I thought to God, why?"

Life began to change when Ferraro received a letter from St. John Vianney High School. “They said they would accommodate me; since then it became a home for me. I knew Coach Pat Smith … and with my training and goals, I started to get more wins,” Ferraro added.

Ferraro ended his high school career with more than 100 wins. His story inspired millions on social media and his documentary film led to an unexpected call from the U.S. Paralympic team to train as a Judo athlete. As a member of Team USA, Ferraro has earned two gold, one silver, and two bronze medals since 2017. He is now training in that sport for the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.

Looking back on the retreat, Zachary Martin, a senior on the SJV volleyball team, said, “It was good today. During my matches, my mind is in so many places. I’m focused on how my body feels or how I am competing. But today’s retreat was a great reminder for me to stay focused on something greater.”

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