(Photo: Courtesy of Legacy 49 Photography)
Heath Kufahl, a high school teacher and lifelong basketball fan who won $20,000 after sinking a half-court shot at Tuesday's Oklahoma City Thunder game against the Lakers, says God has given his family a platform to share their story.
Kufahl, whose wife, Jenni, was diagnosed with appendix cancer in October 2012, told The Christian Post on Thursday that specific events from that day, which led to him making the winning shot, were set in motion by God's divine inspiration.
During his college years, Kufahl said he had tried to make half-court shots; and recently, a few of his friends told him that if he could get to the Thunder game early, he'd have a chance at being selected to try for the winning shot.
The desire was in his heart, but when he went to his first game this season, he was "10 seconds too late," and had just missed out on being selected to compete in the halftime game.
Kufahl said he happened to get tickets to the game for his birthday, because when he walked into the school's office, a colleague wished him a "happy birthday," which was overheard by a parent who then gave him two tickets to the Thunder-Lakers game.
That was "providential" said Kufahl, because it was also couples' night at the arena, which meant that Jenni was going to be an integral part of the story.
Before he could attempt the half-court shot, Jenni had to join her husband down on the court to compete against one other couple in a free throw challenge to see which couple could make the most free throws. Jenni and Kufahl won by making six shots into the basket.
With Jenni's help, Kufahl made it to the half-court line to throw the $20,000 winning shot, and he made the basket without the ball ever hitting the backboard.
Kufahl told The Christian Post that all of the money will go toward his wife's cancer treatment.
Jenni, who has appendix cancer, said, "it's so rare" that most people have never heard about it. After she completes her ten weeks of treatment, Jenni will find out if she's done, or if she'll need to continue with chemotherapy or have surgery at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas.
Kufahl said this experience has increased his and his family's faith in God, because he achieved one of his dreams, but only with Jenni's help, and God, who is using this event to give them an opportunity to share their testimony with others.
"One of the best things that anyone has said to me is: 'It felt like there was an angel guiding that ball into the rim,'" said Kufahl, who coaches girls' volleyball and boys' basketball teams at Christian Heritage Academy in Del City, Okla.
"The story is about my wife, and the journey that God has us on," he said. "Because God had a bigger purpose and platform for us: either to share our adversity, the diagnosis with cancer or God's blessing."
Kufahl and his wife, who both hope that her story will help other people in their lives, have seven children: Maddie, 13, Connor, 10, Kelton, 9, Macy, 7, twins Reese and Brody, 5 and Cruz, 3.
Jenni said that all of their children were excited to learn about their father's winning shot. "The oldest children understood it the most," she said, and they stayed up late together to watch YouTube videos of their dad's winning shot at the game.
When his tenth grade students found out that he made the winning shot, Kufahl said their response to him was "look how good God is."
"The students are such a blessing for us," said Kufahl, who teaches a Bible class and economics at the school. "I know they've been praying for us."
Kufahl admitted that the media attention has been "a little bit overwhelming." His parents live in Tulsa, Okla., where his mother is a teacher, and was able to listen to her son's interview on a local sports radio program Thursday morning.
"It's just weird," he said. "We're just normal people, there's nothing special about us."
"For one or two days, this gives us a platform to share what God has done; and we hope that people can be blessed like we have."