A shot putter who won a silver medal in Rio is a member of the Knights of Columbus who counts priests and religious among his friends and role models.
Joe Kovacs, who was world champion in Beijing last year, was first trained in the sport by his mother, Joanna, a teacher, who also raised him on her own after the death of his father, Joseph, in 1997.
Kovacs told Columbia, the Knights of Columbus magazine, that he and his mother became close to a community of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart while he was growing up.
“One of the priests, Fr Joe Gleixner, was my confirmation sponsor and helped me a ton. I was in a lot of science fairs in high school, and he showed me how to build things. We built a wind tunnel together. One of the retired priests also helped me chip a golf ball around their grounds, and that’s how I learned to have a good golf swing.
“They weren’t just role models, they were friends, and I consider them all part of my family,” he told the magazine.
Explaining his decision to join the Knights of Columbus, he said: “As a little kid, it was the guys with the swords who were really cool. But I got close to the Knights at church just because they were always the people volunteering, holding events … I realised that the people I looked up to or wanted to become were part of this great organisation.”
He also told the magazine that he loved the universality of the Church.
“Every time you go to a church in a different country the format of the Mass is the same. I may not know what they’re saying in their language – but I do know what they’re saying. In most countries, I know only enough words to order food in their languages, but when I go to church I know what’s going on and can participate in Mass.”
Kovacs grew up in Pennsylvania, but also has a Bavarian background via his mother. The family spent time in Germany when his father was ill. “We would go to Mass every day before we went to the hospital, spend time with the German priests,” Joanna told NBC. “Joey was a part of it all.”