Promising Athlete Finds Deeper Purpose

CBN.com -His teammates called him “Jaybird,” because he could fly. Jay Cardiello was a gifted athlete and excelled in the long jump. He says it gave him an identity. “Athletics was basically what defined me growing up.”

Jay also had a learning disability that affected his schoolwork. “I had a very hard time with academics. It was very frustrating and it brought me down a lot,” says Jay. “It felt like the struggle would always lead to failure.”

He hoped his talent as a long jumper could land him a college scholarship, but that wasn’t enough. “I graduated 118th out of 124,” says Jay. “So my grades weren’t even grades. It was nothing stellar. There was no Dean’s List. There was nothing to be proud of.”

Still he was determined to be a college athlete. So he went to community college and worked with tutors to overcome his learning disability and bring his grades up. Eventually Jay became a Razorback at the University of Arkansas, one of the best track programs in the country. That’s when the real work began.

“So I took studying and made it part of my training,” says Jay. “At Arkansas I was training, I was studying and I was putting forth more of an effort. I was burning the candle at both ends.”

Jay was wearing himself out. But the studying paid off and he made the Dean’s List. During this time, he met Ron, who talked to him about Jesus Christ. Jay wasn’t interested. His only goal was to make a name for himself in the long jump and he did, but not in the way he hoped.
“I got the nickname ‘foul Cardiello,’” says Jay. “I would run down the board and I would jump and I was either a quarter of an inch to a half of an inch over and as much as I moved back or situated myself in a different position so I would always foul.”
Jay was distraught over his poor performance. So he trained even harder, but the over-training led to injuries that required surgery. In time, he paid the ultimate price.

“I was extremely fatigued,” says Jay. “I must have been out there three, four hours straight jumping. I ran down the runway as fast as I could. So my heel came into the ground, and it stuck. The force of my foot hitting the ground - that shock went into my spine and cracked my coccyx. At that point they sent me for an MRI and met with an orthopedic surgeon who said, ‘Your career is over.’”

Jay spent the rest of the semester in bed, an emotional wreck. “I was not identified as anything except as an athlete,” says Jay. “I was not living for anything except athletics, and it was basically a death of my body.”
That summer, Jay had back surgery and dropped out of school. His friend Ron called him every day to pray for him and encourage him. “What he was saying was, ‘You need to rewrite who you are. And re-identify yourself and identify yourself not  as an athlete but as a former athlete. Now you’re Jay Cardiello. Who are you?  What makes you?’” says Jay.

Jay thought long and hard about those questions and realized he needed Jesus Christ to tell him who he was. Finally, Jay called Ron and asked him to pray with him. “So he prayed with me and at that point I say April 1, 1997, was when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior,” says Jay. “I don’t want to be in the stands. I want to be on the field. My field may not be a runway anymore. My field is life.”

Jay’s aspirations for track and field fame died but he did transfer to the College of William and Mary where he graduated with a degree in English. His faith grew and he became a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. As he worked to rebuild his body after so many surgeries he developed his own conditioning program called J-core. Jay works today with many professional athletes and celebrities, and is a contributor to fitness magazines. 

“It’s not about aesthetics at all. Anybody can look good,” says Jay. “You want to make a whole person. You want to make a strong person. You want to make a person that’s built on solid ground. You better work from the inside out and you better apply it. (It’s) application, not aesthetics.”