For the longest time, as long as I can remember – and even from stories my parents told me from before I can remember – my dream was to be a professional athlete in the NBA or NFL. For most of my life, it’s what drove me and what I desired most. It’s why I would only watch ESPN, every day of the week, as a 10-year-old. And, why you couldn’t bother me on Saturday’s either. That day was for watching every single college football game on television. It’s also why every Monday when I was 11 years old, I’d stay up until the wee hours of the night, not only to watch Monday Night Football, but the hour of SportsCenter that came on after.
I studied basketball and football intensely, and everything else took a backseat. I was naturally gifted at school. In fact, it came easy. But, it always took a back seat to sports. I never got a 4.0, wasn’t the top of my class in high school, and knowingly, never fully applied myself. I was OK with that because I saved that for sports.
As I grew older, other things took a back seat to sports, too. But, it all paid off in the end. I achieved my dream. Defied the odds. Luckily, with the help of so many angels around me, I made it to college. And, without a lot of my own doing, I signed an NFL contract.
However, there’s more to the story than that. I haven’t told many people the story of how I committed to the University of Minnesota on that hot summer day in June of 2013.
I visited so many schools and met a lot of coaches. They all had their pros and cons. That’s the story of life though; everything has its pros and cons. Yet, there’s still always decisions to be made. Sometimes it’s the little things.
I loved Coach Kill. He is a great man. I also loved how close the University was to Somerset, which were all great reasons to attend a University. But in reality, Ohio State had great things to offer. Oregon had great things to offer. Wisconsin (I’m trying to be transparent here) had great things to offer. Pros were one in the same, and each school’s cons were as well. But, the real reason I committed to Minnesota was something I was scared to try and explain to people for a very long time.
I was in the car after a very long recruiting trip to Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana. Each visit went really well and left me excited for what was next. We were probably a couple hours into our trip home and I was understandably exhausted from the day of competing at Ohio State, so I fell asleep in the back-right-hand corner of the van.
I was in and out of sleep, and my mind was wandering a bit, but I was definitely still asleep. I was thinking about all the options in front of me, when I was interrupted by a voice whispering in my right ear. It was a whisper, but definitively clear. And mind you, I was in the far back, right side of the van, so it’s not like someone could whisper in my ear by the window in that moment. The voice, clear as day, said, “Go to Minnesota. That’s where you need to be.”
When I heard the voice, I instantly woke up. I interrupted the conversation taking place in the van and said, “I’m committing to Minnesota.”
The statement confused everyone in the car.
“We just visited all these great schools and you loved it. Where did Minnesota come from?” I replied, “I just know that’s where I want to be.”
I didn’t know what had just happened, but I did know when I woke up from that nap that I was 100 percent a University of Minnesota commit. That’s where I was going to sign come signing day, and ultimately play for. I didn’t doubt it once. There was a peace over me about the decision and no one could tell me different. I went from complete uncertainty, envisioning the process going well into my senior year, to committing the summer after my junior year to my first scholarship offer.
The next day, I called all of the coaches who recruited me to inform them of my decision. Some conversations went better than others. The last call was to Minnesota, Jerry Kill and his staff. The rest is history.
I didn’t tell anyone about my experience in the van because it didn’t really make sense to me. How could I expect myself to explain it to someone else in a fashion that they could understand? It wasn’t until my freshman year was over that it finally made sense to me. Through divine intervention (and another crazy story I won’t get into here), I found myself attending the Ultimate Training Camp for Christian athletes as I was preparing for my sophomore year.
That week wrecked everything I ever thought I knew about the Lord, everything I thought I knew about myself, and all the things I have been through in my life. At the completion of the SPECIAL, where you run a mile, a half-mile down a hill and another half-mile up it, I had the opportunity to reflect on my life and the things God had done in it.
The run itself is an amazing experience because you do it with a plank used to symbolize the cross Christ carried for every one of us. But, it was really about what happened after. What followed the SPECIAL was the most peaceful five minutes of my life.
I finished the run and tossed the board off my back. I remember seeing the elation on everyone’s face at the top of the hill. They were friends, brothers and sisters in Christ. I took a few more steps and collapsed. I wasn’t exhausted. Actually, the mile run was probably one of the easiest things we did throughout the course of the week. I just, for no apparent reason, collapsed and everything else in the world went quiet.
My mind instantly went back to every crossroad in my life, starting with the first and ending with the most recent. The memories were so vivid and real. There were things I hadn’t thought about in years that came rushing back. As soon as one of the memories finished, it would flash to the next one, and then the next, and so on. It was showing me the timeline of my life.
There, I realized there were so many times in my life that I questioned, or even lashed out at, God for what had taken place. Things far beyond my control and influence that I had to deal with. Much to my surprise, one of the memories that played back was the day I decided to commit to Minnesota. The day the voice visited me in the back of the van. Then it made sense. Everything clicked. God was showing me everything I had ever been through and how He was present in every single situation. But ultimately, how everything led me to that specific moment, on top of a hill, laying down, closer to God than ever before.
I was experiencing the most surreal moment imaginable. I was shown point by point, like a kid’s game of connect the dots, what I had experienced and how I experienced it, all to know Christ deeper and experience His love closer than I could have ever thought possible. At this moment, the memories faded and I just wept.
The reason I’m addressing this story is because the best and worst things that have ever happened in my life, were all present to bring me closer to my Lord and Savior. I thought Minnesota was a football and career move, but little did I know God saw it as an eternity move.
Ever since that day, my life’s purpose has been to know God more and make Him known. I just didn’t know it at that moment. Even further, when God revealed Himself to me on top of that hill, it changed my heart, motivations, passions and values. What my heart desired before Christ filled it, was no longer the same when He occupied it. I didn’t want the things that 10-year-old Gaelin wanted most.
The three years since then have been a roller coaster of ups and downs, twists and turns, with the ultimate destination being a place where I begin to put Him above anyone and everything. And, that won’t change. So as of these last few weeks, I’ve made the decision to step away from the game of football (as a player) and go into ministry. Big decision? I know. What that looks like? I don’t know. Where am I called next? I couldn’t tell you. But, I am looking forward to finally putting everything I am into knowing Christ more and making Him known. No more back seat faith or choosing myself above the Kingdom. I am selling out for Christ because He first sold out for me.
At every crossroad in my life, God has been present and helped influence every one of my decisions. This one is the biggest thus far, but I know He’s the one driving the van this time. So, I’m ready and at peace with it.
– Gaelin Elmore
Gaelin Elmore began his collegiate playing career with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers from 2014-2016, before transferring to the East Carolina Pirates for his senior season in 2017. In 2018, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals, before announcing his retirement last week.