No Hurdles

There are many responsibilities crying out for Cam Viney’s attention.

The University of Illinois senior is a Big 10 track champion who, at last May’s B1G Outdoor Track Championships, took first place in the 400-meter hurdles, and was part of the first place 4x400 relay team. Viney was named First Team Big 10, and helped Illinois win the title.

When not competing, he’s in training, usually six to seven hours every day.

When not training, Viney is deep in his studies in political science and international relations. Last year he served as an intern in the United States Senate. He may do so again after graduation, or he may work for a nonprofit agency for a year. Either way, he believes his future will include attending law school, where he’ll train to become an international lawyer for human rights.

When not studying, there is yet another part of Viney’s life which he’s passionate about — his rich involvement serving with Young Life. 

Growing up in Elkins, West Virginia, Viney gave his life to Christ at the age of 10. He faithfully attended church with his family and one Sunday the high school junior’s path would change significantly. That morning the pastor introduced Heath Sizick, the Young Life area director in Elkins, who shared his dream of reaching kids at Elkins High School (EHS).

Viney and his friends were intrigued and immediately came to Campaigners, Sizick said. “Cam was already a strong Christian and track star in high school. I cast the vision about Young Life and the impact they could have on their school and community. At the last Campaigners before we had our first-ever club in Elkins, Cam pulled me aside, away from his peers, and said, ‘It better be good because I am bringing a ton of people.’ My response (with a smile) was, ‘It will be!’ Cam won a $25 gas card for bringing the most freshmen.”

Viney was hooked. “The coolest thing about Young Life was you could go and have fun and there was a no-judgment zone. I’d tell friends, ‘Just come and check this out one time. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to come back, but don’t say no until you try it.’”

Young Life wasn’t just for his friends, though. Viney himself was drawn in by his friendship with Sizick. “No matter what was going on in my life, Heath was there. It was awesome having my Young Life leader help me through it all. It’s kind of indescribable to talk about how huge an influence he was.”

For his part, Sizick quickly recognized his friend’s influence among his peers and designated him a junior leader his last two years at EHS. “Cam left an eternal impact at EHS, as many kids I know still talk about Cam as the person who first introduced them to Young Life.”

In 2012 Viney arrived at the University of Illinois, where he jumped into Young Life’s freshman leadership, but found it difficult to navigate leading with studies and track.

A breakthrough came the following summer. “I worked on summer staff at Rockbridge which was awesome and eye-opening,” Viney said. “When I returned I sat down with Abby Hobbs [then area director in Champaign] and said, ‘I’m all in! I know I was a little off course last semester, but this fall it’s all hands on deck!’”

Sizick remembered, “After Cam got home he told me, ‘I learned more about myself in a month on summer staff than I have my entire life.’”

Rejuvenated for the fall, Viney continued leading at Champaign Central High School. The following summer he took kids to Young Life’s Crooked Creek Ranch in Colorado, for what would be a momentous trip for both the kids and Viney.

“That week,” Viney said, “I had the privilege to listen to kids’ stories, which is what I love. Kids want someone to hear their stories. This was one of the most incredible weeks of my life, where God allowed me to play a part in seven guys giving their lives to Christ.”

This influence is what makes the new area director for Champaign, Ben Battaglia, one of Viney’s biggest fans. “Cam is a fantastic leader of kids,” Battaglia said. “You’d think, ‘Oh, Big 10 athlete, they’re not going to have the time to be a good leader,’ but he chooses to make it work.

“It would be easy for Cam to think he’s a big deal, but he’s never above doing what it takes to introduce kids to Jesus. He’s always willing to wake up early to meet with Campaigners kids or to pass out doughnuts at the school. He sat with me at lunch the other day and said, ‘I think we get caught up in the program of Young Life, but the heart of Young Life is being with kids.’

“Cam has a magnetic personality. One of the many things I love about Cam is he still sees the kid with no friends, or the kid nobody’s talking to in club, and approaches them. Cam’s heart for kids has inspired me as an area director.”

One such kid is Cody. Viney took him to Lake Champion this past summer and both left camp changed. “Cody impacted my life so much,” Viney said. “He saw Jesus that week and gave his life to Christ during our one-on-one time. I saw him go from death to life and be truly transformed. And that week God taught me I didn’t have to be perfect, just available for Him to work through me.”

What is Viney looking forward to in his last year in school? Naturally, he wants to give his best on the track. But of course, there’s more.

“I can’t wait to start Young Life at Cody’s school, Mahomet-Seymour High School, and see how God will use that. Contact work will have to be ‘on point’ this year!”

Not at all surprising when you consider Viney’s razor-sharp focus:

“My identity is not found in how many medals or trophies or championships or other things I win. My identity is found in Christ. Young Life has helped me to keep a steady focus. There’s nothing I want more than to see someone feel loved.”