Obstacles hinder us.

Or do they?

My first novel was a 177,790-word, 21st century submarine thriller. I was thirteen—lovesick and frustrated, yet hopeful. The book took two-and-a-half years to complete, was formulaic and cliché, and never saw the light of day.

My life-long dream of becoming a writer for real seemed unreachable. I gave up and buried myself in academics. The dream didn’t die so easily, though.

I turned sixteen in 2018, still looking for my passion and “calling.”

I met a guy at camp that year, and we became friends. I saw him do a kip-up. I wanted to learn. I went on YouTube—and discovered the world of parkour, free-running, and breakdancing. Within days, I was reading, watching, and doing everything I could to “get into” parkour.

The history behind parkour gripped my interest: the primal, human urge to flee or to chase, Georges Herbert’s “La Méthode Naturelle,” a father’s legacy of mental and physical tenacity to his son, the Yamasaki and the beginnings of free-running, and today’s athletes—all that was only the beginning. The freedom, speed, aesthetics, and adrenaline parkour and free-running offered appealed to me. I wanted to jump, run, and fly too.

Sometime later, my sister introduced me to a Christian YouTuber. His parkour videos were not flashy; still, they inspired and intrigued me. He was a normal guy doing something I longed to do. I emailed him, asking for his thoughts on parkour: Should Christians do it? Wasn’t parkour risky, useless, or even wrong in some way? Why did he do it?

His thoughtful, honest answers pointed me in the direction from which Obstacles would emerge, but I still had much to think about.

Then came 2019. I turned seventeen that winter. I wrote a personal essay for English Composition, titled “Am I a Writer?” It was an honest question—one I could not answer honestly then. I was afraid, confused, and unhappy with myself. I’d lost something, but I didn’t know what it was. Meanwhile, I practiced parkour in my basement, and dreamed about becoming “somebody” in the parkour/free-running world.

In March 2019, I went downhill skiing.  Something happened after I took the beginner class.

I stood alone at the top of the slope. “Moment of Truth” from The Karate Kid blared into my ears from my iPod. I pushed off.

I remember the exhilaration, independence, and reckless freedom I felt. I remember the feel and sound of wind rushing past, the compact snow beneath my flying skis, the pines lining the slope. I remember the smile on my face as I lived the song I was listening to.

Then—somehow my skis tangled up. I pitched forward and crashed to the ground on my left knee. And I couldn’t stand back up.

I thought my leg was broken. It wasn’t—it was worse. My left knee was torn. Broken bones hurt, but they heal quickly. Not so with “broken” joints.

I lay facedown on the snow, mind reeling. Someone came on a snowmobile and took me away from the hill I was flying down so proudly moments ago.

I was in bed for two weeks, unable to walk, the pain in my head and knee unbearable. My family took care of me—loving care I didn’t deserve. I was a stubborn, selfish, sullen teen—and totally helpless. All I did was pray and cry and groan, wondering where my dream of becoming a professional tracuer went.

When the pain became manageable, I asked myself what parkour truly meant to me.

I had been listening to a TEDx talk given by Ali Kadhim, a Parkour athlete and the founder of Team 9 Lives. The vision he lived out—of using this “extreme” sport to bring hope to others—inspired me. I saw that physical disciplines or “sports” can be about more than simply enjoyment, or even stewarding our physical bodies to God’s glory. Sport (and in my opinion, martial arts and parkour in particular) can, and does change lives.

I wanted to use parkour to the glory of God in this way. I wanted someone to do that even if I couldn’t, what with my weak knee and lack of fitness.

This idea grew until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I had to live it, somehow, before I would forget or brush it aside, or lose it entirely due to despair over my own situation.

Could I perhaps write it down as a novel?

Near the end of March 2019, I went to a teen workshop titled “Who am I as an Athlete?”—with my crutches, throbbing knee, and all. The speaker talked about iron sharpening iron in sports, and how athletes can build each other up.

I wondered if it was possible. I thought about what that could look like.

And then I began writing.

From the start, I knew the story was to be about Team Set Free, young Christian athletes who take parkour and the Gospel to other young people, changing lives for the better. The title Obstacles came later.

The first draft was completed in three weeks. Every day for those weeks, I wrote 5000-6000 words; twice, I wrote 10,000+ words a day. The story came out of me like a relentless torrent; I had a solid case of “novelist’s fever.” Besides, I had not much else to do, sitting all day with my knee propped up. (And yes, amateur-like, I wrote my story and characters heavily inspired by people I knew and situations I had been in.)

That draft was finished in mid-April. I gave it a few rounds of editing—the kind of editing I thought was “professional”—and submitted it to a small publishing contest in May.

It was shortlisted. It was then I saw the book might be worth something; it was something I could do something with.

I’d written it to record a dream, to distract myself from pain and despair, to amuse myself when I couldn’t walk without support. It was filled with inside jokes with myself—little details few would fully understand—and painted a picture of who I wanted to be at the time I wrote it.

I tinkered with the plot, rewrote several scenes, and sent book proposals to seven different publishers.

In November 2019, Ambassador International offered me a publishing contract. My father gave his consent—I was seventeen, not quite “my own person” yet—and Obstacles was on its way to the world. My prayer was, and still is, that this book would ignite the hearts of young people, inspire them to do great things, and spur them on for His glory and His kingdom.

Then, struggles arose. I haven’t actually ever done parkour before, since my accident happened after I’d just learned the simplest moves. To this day, my knee is still weak. What would others think of the way I wrote, of the subject matter of this novel, of the message I was communicating, of the story, of me?

You see, Obstacles didn’t match who I became over the two years between the first draft and the novel’s publication date. I was unsure—embarrassed, perhaps—about releasing this book to the world when I was no longer the girl I was when I wrote it.

But I remember why I wrote it, and the not-so-random pieces of my life that fell into place and led to this novel. My faith in Christ, and appreciation for mankind’s primal need and ability to overcome obstacles, has matured over the past few years. God took a rebellious teenager, broke her knee, and led her closer to Himself, closer to becoming who she should be.

And out of all that came Obstacles.

Obstacles are there not to hinder us, but to strengthen us.

That is the essence of the story behind this book. That too, is the core message of Obstacles.

~ Odelia Chan ~

4 thoughts on “The Story Behind Obstacles

  1. Beautiful Odelia. Looking forward to your book! We cheer you on😁❤️🙏

    The Kang family

  2. Wow – what an incredible personal journey you have taken Odelia. Thank you for sharing the ups and downs, the heartbreak and victories and what is all important – your relationship with the Lord. I am so very proud of you for all you are trying to do for God’s Kingdom, and being a wonderful example to others. I pray that the Lord blesses your endeavours – always for His glory!!!

  3. Hi Odelia, I am touched and motivated by your sharing. May God grant you the spiritual freedom and courage to navigate the path that God has prepared for you. Pray that your book will reach into the hearts of many readers – both young and old – and let God Himself speak to each one of them in His Way. Congrats and God bless!

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