NEUOTTING, Germany — Somewhere in southeastern Germany, there is a Mormon missionary being tormented by thoughts of the Olympics.
Prior to his mission call, he was one of the top ski jumpers in the U.S. Many of his friends are in Vancouver, British Columbia, competing for Team U.S.A. One has even won a silver medal.
Had it not been for a chance meeting with a member of the LDS Church's First Presidency, William "Buck" Bailey might be in Canada as well.
"I knew this winter would be a real test for me," Bailey said in an e-mail. "It hasn't helped that every ward member has invited me to come watch Olympic ski jumping. Saying "no" the first time was easy, but the 12th time was harder, especially when I want to cheer on my friends."
But Bailey is enduring like a good soldier in the Germany Munich/Austria mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has about a year to go. He enjoys missionary work and doesn't see the two-year experience as a big sacrifice, even if it means missing a shot at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"Everyone has to give up something to go on a mission, but it's worth it because the Lord gives you a lot more back," Bailey said.
Bailey, a lifelong resident of Park City, Utah, started wearing skis at age 2. As a preschooler, his mother Robyn said he delighted in skiing with a Superman cape so he could capture a feeling of flying.
Buck Bailey, right, was third place at a jump in Vancouver before his mission. Photo courtesy Bailey family.
By age 12, Bailey was ski jumping and training upwards of six days a week. A few years later he was reaching serious heights and competing against the best jumpers in the world as he skyrocketed and soared off jumps in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Poland, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Italy, among others.
Bailey, also an Eagle Scout, developed friendships with stellar athletes like Anders Johnson, Taylor Fletcher, Nick Alexander, Bill Demong, Brett Camerota and Johnny Spillane, all of whom are current members of Team U.S.A. in the Vancouver games.
"I was consistently top five or better in the U.S. for ski jumping before my mission," Bailey said.
Qualifying for the Olympics was a real possibility, and Bailey seriously considered delaying his mission, something he had long considered his duty.
Bailey was wrestling with the decision as he and two high school friends attended the birthday party of Joachim Schenk, his neighbor and stake patriarch.
As the trio walked across the lawn, they stopped in their tracks as they recognized someone in the driveway. It was President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of the church. Bailey said their first reaction was to hide around the corner of the house, but it was too late. They had been spotted.
"He came up to us and shook our hands. He talked with us for quite a while," Bailey said.
The importance of serving missions came up, and President Uchtdorf told the young men about the blessings of missionary service. This prompted Bailey to share his dilemma.
President Uchtdorf's reply surprised Bailey.
"It was not a straightforward answer, 'Yes, you should serve now,' or 'No, you should serve later,' which I was looking for at the time," said Bailey, who was impressed the church leader would take time to chat with three high school boys. "It was, 'You'll know when to serve when you pray about it.'"
So pray he did, for the next three months.
"When I was ready to accept the Lord's answer and act on it, I got my answer, which is why I am in Germany today."
Miss the Olympics?
His coaches were shocked and not pleased to say the least, Bailey said.
But the future missionary stood firm on his decision, even after he got a phone call that went something like: "So this mission thing is like for a year right? And you'll be back before the Olympics, right? You know you have a high chance of going to the Olympics, right? As of right now, you are on the team. You know that, right?"
The coaches didn't understand why the promising young ski jumper would bail out on such an opportunity. They did lighten up when he received his mission call to Germany, a place where ski jumping is a common sport. When investigators find out Bailey loves ski jumping, they offer to drive him to the nearest venue. They are confused when he declines the invitation.
"I am constantly reminded of what I love to do. Between the billboards and media everywhere, I see ski jumping everywhere," he said. "But I have work to do."
Elder Bailey says serving a mission for one year has taught him more than he ever learned in years of ski jumping. He may have missed the Olympics, but he is counting his blessings.
"There is nothing better than helping people come close to our Heavenly Father," he said.
When he returns home, he will evaluate his physical capabilities and see how things go. For now, he is trying to focus on the Lord's work. His future plans will include a college education.
As for the ward members inviting Bailey to watch the Games, he has a strategy.
"My ward mission leader gave me a newspaper with the ski jumping schedule," Bailey said. "I will use it to schedule appointments with investigators when jumping is on and when a member calls and invites me over, I can say we already have an appointment."