I start to realize I’m in over my head, and become paralyzed with the fear that I’m not good enough.How will my dreams become a reality if I can’t handle juggling the demands of work, school, volleyball and my social life? This paralysis is overwhelming, and floods into every aspect of my day. As my busy schedule goes on, my fiery passion dwindles, and I worry to the point of being incapable of the simplest of tasks. Let’s go back to the idea of being “the girl who can do it all.” Why do we have to do everything today? I find myself thinking too often about the accomplishments I want people to know me for, and comparing that image to just about everyone else. I compare myself to people who aren’t going to college and instead traveling the world; people who are going to college and are accomplishing major feats in their research; people who I perceive as being stronger in their faith than me; and athletes from other schools that I play against. The worst part about this is that it stops me from pursuing my dreams. It makes me ask myself, “Am I good enough?” “Why haven’t I done that?” I think, “Their team is ranked higher than ours,” or “What’s the point of applying to this internship? Someone from an Ivy League with a higher GPA probably already applied.” This is so unhealthy! I know I am not the only one who does this, either. So far in my life, my response has been what I mentioned before: overloading my schedule, progressively being exhausted by said schedule, and freezing up in inaction and fear. How do I break this cycle? As of right now, I don’t have a solid answer. I can’t say I’ve successfully broken through this, as I’m in one of these dangerous cycles as we speak! What I do know is that I am not isolated in times of stress and pain. Friends, teammates, mentors, coaches, and most importantly, our Lord and Savior have all shown up and given me something to lean on when I’m too weak to do anything on my own. The book of Joshua has shed some light on this issue of ambition becoming fear for me, and I’d like to share it. The first chapter begins with Joshua, the former aide to Moses, being asked by God to lead the Israelites to Canaan after Moses passes away. He was so well-prepared and capable for this position, yet still he feared failure and questioned his ability to lead God’s people. God said to him, “Have I not commanded you? Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). The biggest takeaway I have from this message is even as unqualified as you may feel, God is the rock that will assure you of your potential.
Who are you to say that you aren’t good enough?You were created with so much love and care by the One who saves! The second Bible verse I want to share is about pain, because being Christian doesn’t mean we are free from it. John 15:1-2 says “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” I once heard that this idea of pruning means to “carefully, intentionally inflict pain to increase growth.” How amazing is this, that as I feel like there’s no way to stay afloat amidst my struggles, God is using it to make me stronger and better equipped for the future He has planned for me! The best version of me is the ambition, the fire and energy that hasn’t been tainted by envy, fear and sloth. But that is a rare gem. What I can do to fuel the fire again is remind myself that I’m the only one who’s stopping me. This became an important phrase my sophomore season, when I would get insecure in my own head and not play to my potential. “Who’s stopping you?” was written everywhere in my room, planner and locker. Being scared of failure is not what God put me (or you, for that matter!) on this earth to do. Rather than “Am I good enough?” remind yourself “God has prepared me for this.” To conclude, settle your anxiety-ridden heart. Know your limits and don’t overcommit. Dive deep into His life-changing Word. Open up and be honest with the people around you. Remember to be grateful for the things you have been blessed with, for every season you have been in. I pray hearing this heals someone as much as writing it has healed me. —
I remember sitting in the locker room by myself during the 2nd period, crying partly because of the physical pain, but more so because of the emotional pain of once again not being able to play hockey. I wasn’t emotionally strong enough to go down this road again.That Thursday at practice, I decided to give it a shot and skate. About 15 minutes into practice, my coach pulled me aside and said, “you don’t look like you can skate.” I couldn’t, but anything was better than being put back on the “injured reserve”. That Friday I went to get x-rays which revealed a hairline fracture on my patella that would take about 6 weeks to heal. Little did I know, this was only the beginning. After six weeks of rest and rehab, I was finally ready to get back on the ice. Days before I was set to skate, I slipped on a slick surface and hyper flexed my knee, resulting in a new fracture. My knee swelled up roughly 10 times the size of what it should be. After countless prayers, doctors’ appointments and an MRI, the doctors confirmed it was only the kneecap that had re-fractured, and there was no other internal damage. What a relief that was, no surgery! Roughly two months of healing and therapy followed. It felt so good to be back on track. On the first Friday on the second semester, I took off for my 9:30 class. I took one step into the road and slipped on a patch of ice, twisting my leg in an odd position. I fell to the ground and felt my body go into shock. The first thing I did was run my fingers over my kneecap, where I could feel it clearly split into two pieces. I tried calling everyone in my contacts before my roommate Evan picked up his phone. He hurried over to my location in the middle of 14th street to bring me to the ER. My kneecap was completely separated in half. We scheduled surgery for the following Monday.
I sat in silence for most of the days following. I was in shock. Three times? Clearly God had been trying to tell me something that I was missing.I dropped out of Hope for the semester and moved home. I couldn’t get out of bed for days at a time after the surgery. My parents and two younger brothers can certainly attest when I say I battled with my mental health during this time period. I was nothing more than a lifeless body who sat in bed with my hood up. I couldn’t find an ounce of good in the situation, and I was frustrated with myself and with God. I tried pulling myself out of that abyss of anger and sadness, but nothing worked. I remember receiving a sympathy card from my team. Inside was a personal note and some words of encouragement from every player and coach. I got halfway through and broke down into tears. Everything kind of hit me at once. It was tough to comprehend it all. I cried, prayed, and began to figure it out. They say time heals all, and this proved true in my case. I started smiling again, and I began to really understand my situation. I looked away from the past and towards the future. I would even laugh to myself at times, like, “yo, I really just broke my kneecap 3 times and had to drop out of school… WHAT?!” I began to understand that life is all about how you respond to things.
God’s plan for you is perfect, and it has already been written start to finish. Adversity will find you. You have to respond with a good attitude, that’s all you can do.After the initial shock and interminable sadness began to fade, I decided I would not let this injury rule me. Although I felt helpless for much of the 10 months I battled this, I continued to put all I had into God. He kept gifting me (yes, gifting me) with all these injuries to teach me lessons you just can’t learn anywhere else. Not in the classroom or in the office. These are valuable life lessons I hold close and have built my faith on. I wasn’t sure if I would ever play hockey again, but I was sure that I would come back and be a support system and an outlet of faith for my teammates. Those guys are, and always will be, my family. I am eternally grateful for the support of them, my friends, my girlfriend and especially my family throughout this all- they stood by me at my worst. My close friend Justin Pinto encouraged me to create a bucket list shortly after I first broke my kneecap. Just under 9 months after surgery, on October 5th, 2018, I was able to cross #8 off of that list: Play another Hope hockey game. I came into this season with a greater perspective of what it’s all about, and I want to try to be the best teammate I can be. I still get mad at myself and others on and off the ice, but now, I try to catch myself in the midst of that anger and remind myself why I am back on the ice and who got me there. I didn’t have these kinds of reminders before this all. I am grateful God gave me another chance, and I know I am doing this all solely through Him. Just as Steve mentioned in his reflection, “This is not a pity party. I am not asking for your sympathy. Save it.” I’m not here to tell you how tough my journey was. It could have been so much worse. Battling something like cancer and going through rounds of chemotherapy? That’s bad. Those are the people I look up to. God reveals parts of his plans for us in ambiguous and sometimes painful ways. I don’t want this to sound like I have my faith figured out because that’s not true, but I’m evolving; I’m getting there. The past year of my life has been something beyond comprehension, and I am slowly taking it all in and rejoicing in what I’ve learned. Keep your head up, for He has a much greater plan for you. Let Psalms 37:5 ring through your head. It’s applicable to everyone’s situation in some way, and I have come around to understand that in full. I am beyond thankful for this life, my fragile bones, and a gracious God who loves us so much. I’m excited to see what’s down the road with these new lenses of appreciation God has given me.
Whatever you’re going through will reveal something to you. Be strong and remember why you’re fighting the fight.Life is short. Give thanks. Be intentional. Embrace adversity. Work hard. He gave us life, guys. Your story is written – go live it. —
LAYING DOWN NUMBER ONEMy name is Jason Beckman, and I am a senior on the Hope College men’s basketball team. I was a bit weary at first to open up and let a more vulnerable side of me show to readers here on the Hope Athletes’ Journal, but I think it’s “about time people start sharing who they really are, rather than what we think people want us to be,” as my friend Steve Binnig told me. So, without further ado, here is a deeper look into the guy behind that jersey with the number one. To be honest with you, I had first written a pretty concise, neatly packaged story that painted me in a favorable light. But it wasn’t good enough because it wasn’t the “real Jason.” So I scrapped it. The real Jason is WACK. Legitimately messed-up. Like, I don’t think many people would want to be friends with the real Jason. I’ve made a ton of mistakes, and I’ve often missed the mark. There have been times when I’ve been impatient, unkind, and downright terrible to people, especially my closest friends and family. I’ve often tried to mask my fear of rejection and fear of failure with addictions of the flesh, like hyperactivity in my schedule, lust and impurity, and putting on a mask that “everything’s cool.” That’s wack. I’ve been fake a lot of times, showing most people the better me. I’ve often been a dude I’m not, and I apologize for not being consistent with the way I act and treat people. The real Jason is often too short-tempered, too selfish, and often ignores the real needs of those around him. I’ve fallen short, and I’ve truly been a disappointment in myself at times. The real Jason has been imperfect, but I think this has been the best realization I could possibly come to. Over the course of my 23 years, I’ve begun to realize that on my own, I’m pretty piss-poor at living what I see as a “noble life.” I’m messed up on my own, but actually that’s the beauty of it. I believe that in my weakness, in my failures, and in my dirt, my Lord Jesus is rejoicing. The fact is that I have realized my weakness is cause for joy, because it points me to the only true source of perfection. The only solution for my human insufficiency is divine intervention from God Almighty, in the form of his son Jesus. And as cliche as it may sound, I find peace in my brokenness. I know that Jesus is bringing new wine out of this old, broken-down, wacked-out wineskin. Praise the Lord! I rejoice in the fact that I know this battle is no longer mine: Jesus conquered death and He conquered my biggest mistakes. Thank you God! So, I’m good because He is good. This realization crushes that mask that the fake Jason has often put on and relieves me of the stresses of the flesh. I’m good, and SO ARE YOU! Praise Jesus. All of this said, I’m sure that some of you reading this feel a lot like me. “Sure man, I know Jesus saved me (or maybe you don’t, that’s okay too. I’m right here with you!) and I know I’m good, but right now I feel like garbage. I messed up again, and I don’t know if I can get back up.” To you, I’m extending my hand. Extending my hand to help you up, and extending my arm to wrap around you. I’ve been there, and I will likely be there again. I don’t have this figured out in any way, shape, or form, but I know that we are in this together. This crazy thing we call life is going to hit us all in the teeth and going to make fools of all of us. In these valleys, I believe that we, as a Hope College athletic community, need to bond together and embrace our imperfections. We need to stop putting on this fake persona of “nice” and stop leading people on that ‘everything’s good.’ We need to stop trying to look good on the outside and to live into the ways that we are all broken. It is only in this brokenness that God can receive the glory He is due. And then, when we find those mountaintops together and we reach our pinnacle, it’s going to taste that much sweeter, knowing that we had a brother and sister next to us who got us there, who spurred us on, and who saw us as we really are. Bringing Jesus glory in both the hills and the valleys — that’s what my true dream is for Hope College. Lastly, I need all of you reading this to know how amazing God has fashioned you to be. No matter where you are now, He has called you and me both to more. More love, more patience, and more HOPE. We each have a unique set of talents, gifts, abilities, and a unique identity. Let’s embrace who we really are and who we are made to be. YOU ARE AMAZING! Believe that, no matter how far you are from your “amazing.” It’s coming! Jesus promises that. It seems to me that it’s a waste of time to try to be anyone else at this point, so be and do you with all the gifts and forgiveness God has given you. Embracing our differences in a community of encouragement is how we are really going to make an impact on this campus. Let’s push each other to each of our AMAZINGs with the help of Jesus. Finally, please know that whatever you have done or whatever you will do, and wherever you are at, you are in good company: Number one on your men’s basketball team can be a damn fool too. Praise the Lord. In my weakness, He is made strong. — THE HOPE ATHLETES’ JOURNAL MISSION STATEMENT The mission of the Hope Athletes’ Journal is to provide Hope College student-athletes with a platform to express their challenges and joys in order for coaches, peers, prospective students, and fans to relate to, understand, and appreciate their stories beyond their games. This project, initiated by Stephen Binning ’19, encourages and invites Hope student-athletes to write vulnerable, principled, honest, and respectful stories that ultimately knit our college even closer together. If you or someone you know has a story that could be shared on the Hope Athletes’ Journal, please reach out to Lindsey Engelsman (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Eva Dean Folkert (email@example.com). If you or someone you know is in need of help, here are some resources both on and off campus: Hope College Office of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 616-395-7945 Hope College Campus Ministries: 616-395-7145 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
This past summer I had the opportunity to attend the Global Leadership Summit. I was selected, along with a group of other Hope athletes to attend GLS and it tremendously changed my perspective on leadership and motivation.
The Summit had speakers from around the world come and share their knowledge and different views of leadership and how God plays a part. Hope Athletics presented me with an opportunity to listen to several moving speakers talk and teach about their experiences and lessons learned in our world today. This world around us and the people in it are constantly changing, it almost becomes hard to keep up with. I learned that a big piece in the center of all of that is leadership, and that means us as leaders. Everyone can be a leader, and in some way, shape, or form, we all are. During this time, I realized that I was always looking for someone to inspire me, I was always looking for my motivation to come from somewhere or someone that wasn’t me. But what if I was the reason for someone else’s inspiration? What if I was the reason someone else was motivated to do something? This made me take a step back and see that I could be that person too. I could be that person here at Hope or on my lacrosse team, that showed someone else the way. Everyone has a chance to be that person. It doesn’t have to start tomorrow, it can start today.
I was able to be part of our lacrosse team last year where we made it a priority to celebrate the little wins in our practices or in our games. We didn’t just focus on the big goals at the end of the season, we also focused on the little steps it took to get there.This was something as small as having good communication while we were man down on a penalty card. This little win contributed and brought us a step closer to our bigger goal of winning conference. As a team, leaders stepped up and brought us closer by celebrating these small steps. One of the speakers at The Summit, Craig Groeschel, pointed out that anyone can be a leader, you don’t have to have a title to be one. Many people think that captains on a sports team or managers in a business team are the only leaders, that’s not necessarily true. This was something important for me to realize because it is an idea that I would like to implement and continue on our lacrosse team. You can be a leader to anyone, just like someone can be a leader to you.
One of my favorite speakers was Erwin McManus. He spoke on the idea of becoming the person we were supposed to be and how fear plays into that. He had an incredible story of his own fear and this brought me even closer to my own story. I really connected with the idea of running into the fire. McManus pointed out that our fear is what is controlling us, like how fire controls the damage it causes, and that on the other side of our fears, is freedom. As leaders, we can’t run from the fire, we can’t pull our followers away from the fire, that would show that it is still controlling us, right? Then leaders must run into the fire, because freedom and greatness is what is on the other side. I have made this a daily part of my life since I let this sink in after the conference. I strongly relate to the phrase, “no longer a slave to fear,” and I have since before I even heard McManus speak, but hearing all his lessons and teachings, I got a chance to revisit why I started believing in that in the first place. I don’t want fear to control me, anyone that I follow, or anyone that follows me. I agree with the idea that, as a leader, you can’t lead other people away from the fire, you have to show them and lead them through it.
Leaders create other leaders. This is something that I see at Hope College every day, no matter how small. I am incredibly appreciative to have had this opportunity to hear these amazing stories and have the chance to go out and implement these ideals into my life and the lives of others on this campus and on my team. I intend to keep spreading the great leadership tips that I got in hopes that maybe I can be that inspiration or motivation for someone else to do the same, just like these speakers did for me.
About the writer: Laurel Frederickson is a sophomore majoring in public accounting and is a member of our women’s lacrosse team.
No one knew it; not my teachers, not even my closest friends. I became a master of putting on a happy face.Growing up with a supportive family and in an awesome town, I had everything laid out for me. It was no question that I would be successful in both academics and in athletics – both of my brothers were, so therefore, I would be too. And I was. I was able to balance several sports, advanced level classes, extracurriculars, and friendships with ease. I finished my senior year of high school with high academic honors in addition to earning all-state honors in soccer. Being involved in so many things allowed me to get out of the house and escape what was going on back home where both of my brother’s lives were in shambles due to drugs and alcohol. No one knew it; not my teachers, not even my closest friends. I became a master of putting on a happy face. My parents didn’t know of my inward struggles with anxiety or depression either. I avoided talking to them about my brothers’ battles with addiction and pretended that I didn’t know what was going on. I continued to excel as if there was no other option. I knew if I didn’t, it would cause my parents more troubles. I wanted to bring them a little bit of happiness in the battle they already faced.
It was hard trying to stay strong for everyone around you with a pasted-on smile that quickly goes away when you’re alone.It was hard trying to stay strong for everyone around you with a pasted-on smile that quickly goes away when you’re alone. I knew I should express it, but for some reason I only wanted to suppress it. I can tell you first hand it’s tough trying to kill something that’s on the inside, that eats you alive, and there’s nothing you can do about it. No matter how hard you try, the pit in your stomach, the racing thoughts, the tears, and that feeling of numbness just won’t go away. When I arrived at Hope as a freshman year, I still faced this battle, but I continued to put up a front and kept a smile on my face. Meanwhile, on the inside, I was crumbling, even though I was pre-accepted into the nursing program, I got decent playing time, I had friends in all different things on campus, and I had a boyfriend who thought the world of me. Yet I still felt funny. You know people love you, but it doesn’t feel like they do. You know there is something that will make you feel better, but you just don’t know what that something is. You want to be well, but you just can’t seem to get there. Then the anxiety begins to creep in, causing you to forget how to breathe. Your throat tightens up and your lungs feel as if they are bound to collapse, trying to gasp for air between the cries and wanting to feel something as the tears roll down your cheeks. I successfully squeaked my way through freshman year without admitting my internal struggles to anyone and managing to avoid having a complete mental breakdown. It wasn’t until that summer I was finally able to admit to myself and my family that I was not doing okay. My anxiety and my depression had gotten so bad that I was physically sick. I had such bad migraines that I would throw up; my thoughts would lead me in such bad places that I would get sick to my stomach. When I opened up to my mother about everything, she handled it with such grace. She got me an appointment with our family doctor who knew our entire family very well and gave me a space me to further talk about my feelings. Talking to the doctor about everything felt so good and it all came out, surprisingly, very easily. After our appointment, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in which I would take a pill daily to help balance my mind and body.
Finally, I felt like I could breathe again.Going back to school as a sophomore, I was dedicated to carry back a new trait with me – vulnerability. I wanted to tell my team, my sorority, my fellow nursing majors, and everyone in my life. I wanted to share my struggles, both past and present, and I wanted people to share theirs with me as well. Why should I hide something that is such a big part of my life when those closest to me could be struggling with the same exact things but are just too scared, like I once was, to share it? I started by opening up to my coaches. Leigh Sears, my soccer coach, asked if I would be willing to share my story with the team, and I instantly said yes, not just for my sake but for theirs too. I hoped I would spark a flame inside their soul and get them to speak up, and be vulnerable too. I shared my testimony with the team and not a dry eye left the room. Finally, I felt like I could breathe again. Now in my senior year, I still value vulnerability. Nearly everyone who knows me knows my story. They know of my struggle with depression and anxiety. They know of my brother’s death. Yet, the most used attribute my friends and family have used to describe me is “strong”. Strong because I now face my struggles head on, living life fully and abundantly. I have now learned to love wholeheartedly, speaking my truths and listening with an open ear to others. My depression is and will always be my worst enemy, but my closest companion. No matter what I do or where I go, it follows me. However, no longer do I let it take over and I do not give up. I now know how hard depression can be to deal with but I now also know how amazing the moments feel when it is absent. The moments when I don’t feel that heaviness on my shoulders or inside of my chest is the reason why I don’t stop fighting. I am grateful that my depression influences me to appreciate the good days so much more. I’ve learned to ground myself in those moments while reminding myself that there are so many more to come. So now, I encourage you to fight the stigma of mental health with me. Be strong, be vulnerable, be brave, and keep the faith. — THE HOPE ATHLETES’ JOURNAL MISSION STATEMENT The mission of the Hope Athletes’ Journal is to provide Hope College student-athletes with a platform to express their challenges and joys in order for coaches, peers, prospective students, and fans to relate to, understand, and appreciate their stories beyond their games. This project, initiated by Stephen Binning ’19, encourages and invites Hope student-athletes to write vulnerable, principled, honest, and respectful stories that ultimately knit our college even closer together. If you or someone you know has a story that could be shared on the Hope Athletes’ Journal, please reach out to Lindsey Engelsman (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Eva Dean Folkert (email@example.com). If you or someone you know is in need of help, here are some resources both on and off campus: Hope College Office of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 616-395-7945 Hope College Campus Ministries: 616-395-7145 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
One of the biggest fans of Hope College women’s soccer lives in Ethiopia. And some of the biggest fans of 12-year-old Sam Shebabaw reside at Hope. Never mind that they are separated by an ocean and a continent. Never mind that they are different in gender and social class and culture. Never mind any of that. Because, you see, they don’t mind any of that. Sam Shebabaw of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the Flying Dutch, of Holland, Michigan, are undeniably bound together — by soccer and by hope.
Since much of the ethos surrounding the Hope women’s soccer emphasizes servanthood — not just toward teammates but also to those beyond their immediate reach — the team has supported various charities domestically and abroad for many years. For the past six years though, the Flying Dutch have focused all of their resources on Sam, a child under the care of YZM USA, an Ethiopian non-profit, non-government organization providing comprehensive care for orphaned and vulnerable children in multiple communities in and around the capital city of Addis Ababa.
“It shows how amazing God is to connect a small village in Ethiopia to small Hope College in West Michigan.”
Becoming connected with Sam Shebabaw started in 2012 when Madison Buursma ‘15, currently a Ph.D. candidate in nursing at Michigan State, was a member of the Flying Dutch team. Maddie told head coach Leigh Sears about her family’s involvement with YZM USA. Her father, Tim Buursma ’87, is on their advisory board, and the Buursmas adopted their son and brother, also named Sam, through that agency in 2011.
Shortly thereafter then, the Flying Dutch chose to support one charity — YZM USA — for the foreseeable future. “The team decided we would sponsor the youngest kid that we could and keep supporting him or her until the age of 18,” says Sears. As a consequence, every player on every Hope women’s soccer team has donated toward Sam’s annual support since he was six; for food, clothes, hygiene supplies, and his education, including a school uniform.
But Morgan Buursma — sister to Maddie and Sam Buursma, daughter of Tim and Dawn Buursma, and a senior player for the Flying Dutch — is quick to point out that the total money the teams sends to YZM USA doesn’t go to Sam alone. “There’s over 1500 kids in this organization and about 500 aren’t sponsored. So, donations get distributed throughout, but Sam is our main guy there,” she says.
Morgan has been to Ethiopia twice with her dad who travels regularly to the African nation. Each time she has met Sam Shebabaw, a message of God’s global reach hits home. She becomes keenly aware of how a God who is so great can provide so much for so many, even though the amount seems so small. For only a dollar a day, she says, Sam receives necessities of life — the tangibles and the intangible. “He feels so cool because he gets sponsored by a soccer team,” explains Morgan. “And it’s fun because when we go there, Leigh gives us a bunch of old soccer balls and uniforms to hand out to all the kids. Sam has his own little soccer hat and jersey. He just loves that.”
Throughout the Flying Dutch soccer team, the Sam Shebabaw effect has rippled. A few players decided to sponsor other children on their own through YZM USA. “My family is obviously really connected, and it’s a big part in our life,” says Morgan, whose hometown is Grandville, “but it’s been neat because more players have been impacted, too, and they have asked me to check in on their kids when I go.”
Each time she has met Sam Shebabaw, a message of God’s global reach hits home.
Morgan’s proclivity to make a difference, to give back, to be a force for caring good is as much as part of her academic major (nursing) as it is her field position (defender). In each, others look to her for strong assistance and support. A defender must “do the dirty work. No glory. No stats,” comments Sears. But for Morgan, quietly helping others is simply what she’s always wanted to do — on the field and off. “I’ve done a lot of clinicals and have been in situations firsthand where I’m helping someone who can’t help themselves,” she recalls. “It can be hard and a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding.”
In her captain, Sears sees a young woman who plays and learns with a great deal of perspective and effort. That’s a winning combination for life, no matter the sport or major. “She’s a good student taking difficult classes. She’s a great kid from a great family. She works really hard and leads by that example,” the coach says.
So, Sam Shebabaw of Ethiopia wears his jersey and delights that women soccer players in America are some of his biggest fans. He writes to the team twice a year, and the Flying Dutch write back. Half a world away from each other, they’ve been brought closer together by hope.
“This is just another experience God has provided me to open up my eyes to what’s really going on in the world, to what’s important and what’s not,” Morgan says. “It shows how amazing God is to connect a small village in Ethiopia to small Hope College in West Michigan. He’s so good the way He provides so well for us all.”
On Tuesday January 8th, 2018, the second day of classes of my second semester of junior year, I woke up in a panic attack.
Up until that moment, I had never experienced a panic attack before. Frankly, I had never really had anxiety before. For the first time in my life, I did not think I was going to be able to bring myself to get out of bed. For the rest of the semester, everyday tasks like going to class, grabbing lunch with my closest buddies, and hitting the weight room suddenly felt impossible to accomplish. My brain felt like it was running at a million miles an hour. I could not make sense of my thoughts, feelings, or emotions. Again, this entire experience was new to me, and for all intents in purposes, made no sense.
Let me back track a bit. I come from a great family. I have a set of parents who love God, love each other, and love my sisters and me more than anything in the world. I have a lot of friends. I have an awesome girlfriend. I do well in school. I have a bright future… so why in the world did I have any reason to panic?
While I don’t know exactly what the root of this initial panic and anxiety was, what I can tell you is that the days since January 8th of this year have been hard. Some days have been downright terrible. I have had to do some things that were, at first, really uncomfortable. It started with a conversation that same Tuesday between me and two of my closest friends, Hayden Smith and Tucker Marty. I told them what I was experiencing, and that I had no idea how to stop it. Hayden and Tucker are two understanding and compassionate people, but it is still incredibly difficult to open yourself up like that to others. Luckily, they encouraged me to reach out to my family, my girlfriend Holly, and a few others I consider my closest friends. To set the record straight, I have never had a hard time articulating my thoughts and feelings. I am a verbal processor, and I enjoy working through the thoughts in my head with others. But, attempting to make sense of my brain on that Tuesday felt undoable. That being said, I could not be happier that Hayden and Tucker encouraged me to speak up.
Consequently, for most of this calendar year, I have been going to regular therapy sessions and been prescribed different medications to treat General Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. I have seen my support system rally around me in ways that I did not think were possible. Bottom line, I got, and am continuing to receive, the help that I need.
Now, enough about me. What does this mean for you? Allow me to clear the air: this is not a pity party. I am not asking for your sympathy. Save it. What I am asking is for you to consider your current and past perspectives on mental health.
Prior to this happening in my own life, when trying to understand someone dealing with mental illness, I would think things like, “Why can’t you just turn it off?”, or “Just get over it already.” Maybe I am just a cold-hearted individual, but my intuition tells me that a friend, family-member, or complete stranger has led you to think these things at least one time or another. Maybe, it’s been thoughts about yourself in your own head that have led you to feel this way.
As an athlete, I get it. For as long as I can remember, I have had coaches, teammates, parents, mentors, etc. teaching me what it means to be, “tough.” Tough, in this case, means that to show even a glimpse of weakness would make one a failure. Athletes are conditioned to be tough. From the way we train, to the way we play, even in the way that we relate to others… the best athletes are the toughest ones.
Fear not, I am not about to dismantle the idea of athletics. I have learned many of my most valuable life lessons on the soccer field. I believe that through sport, we gain invaluable skills that carry over into our day-to-day lives. But do not miss this.
I also believe that in our culture, specifically in the sports world, we have created an environment where athletes are discouraged to speak up about their internal battles. That needs to change.
If I have learned anything from battling mental illness it is this: Tough does not internalize. Instead, tough works through the messiest parts of life and faces its hardest trials head on. Tough asks for help when help is required. And most importantly, tough never, even when it seems absolutely impossible to keep moving forward, gives up.
All things considered, we attend a school that offers both a safe and welcoming campus. Speaking from my own experience, staff and faculty at Hope actually want to know their students. They care about us, and that is not the case at a lot of institutions. However, I understand that fact does not necessarily make it any easier to seek out the help you need. If I’m honest, one of my biggest fears in this whole thing was that my family, friends, and mentors would consider me a “bad Christian” because I was dealing with anxiety, panic and depression. In my head, I was convinced that no “good Christian” would struggle the way that I was struggling. Hear these words that I have had to tell myself repeatedly over the last several months: that is a lie straight from the pit of hell. There is no such thing as a perfect person, let alone Christian. We live in an imperfect world, full of sin, sickness, hardship, poverty… the list goes on. We, as people are inherently fallen and sinful. As a result, things like anxiety and depression exist. My point is that one of the first steps in confronting mental illness is recognizing that struggling with anxious thoughts, panic, depression, thoughts of suicide, self-harm or whatever is not abnormal. It is simply another negative byproduct of our fallen world. As Kevin Love recently stated in his article by the same name, “everyone is dealing with something.” Remember, no man is an Island.
My goal is to get people talking. Friends talking with friends, students with professors, departments with other departments, athletes with non-athletes, Sibs with Delphis, baseball players with football players, community members with Hope students. You get the point.
The people of Hope are too valuable to struggle on their own. We are blessed with too strong of a community to allow one another to fight our demons independently.
No, I don’t have the answer. But, I do know there needs to be change. If nothing else, I am here to tell you that mental illness is very real. I am ashamed to say that I would not have said that a few months ago. It is no secret that there is a negative stigma that surrounds mental health in our country, and I have been guilty of contributing to that stigma in the past. The important piece moving forward is that we can debunk the idea that the person inflicted with mental illness is weak, incapable, crazy and/or a failure.
Speak up. Whether for yourself or for someone you love. Speak up. I can’t promise it will be easy, but I can promise it will be good.
THE HOPE ATHLETES’ JOURNAL MISSION STATEMENT
The mission of the Hope Athletes’ Journal is to provide Hope College student-athletes with a platform to express their challenges and joys in order for coaches, peers, prospective students, and fans to relate to, understand, and appreciate their stories beyond their games. This project, initiated by Stephen Binning ’19, encourages and invites Hope student-athletes to write vulnerable, principled, honest, and respectful stories that ultimately knit our college even closer together.
If you or someone you know has a story that could be shared on the Hope Athletes’ Journal, please reach out to Lindsey Engelsman (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Eva Dean Folkert (email@example.com).
If you or someone you know is in need of help, here are some resources both on and off campus:
Hope College Office of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 616-395-7945
Hope College Campus Ministries: 616-395-7145
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
There inside an eight-foot, concrete circle with a discus white-knuckle-gripped in her right hand, it was not readily apparent that Hope College’s Haley Fischman ’18 was coping with cancer. The senior student-athlete struck the pose of a skilled thrower ready to propel two pounds of wood and metal and carbon fiber ridiculously far through the air and seemed much the same as she had hundreds, maybe thousands, of throws before. Well, maybe there was one exception, one new item added to her usual orange-and-blue Hope uniform that betrayed her new reality: this time, on the first day of the 2018 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Track and Field Championships in early May, Fischman wore an unassuming cream-colored bandana over thinning brunette hair.
Finally, Fischman inhaled deeply, began to twirl as discus throwers do, and then, by power and faith, rendered a ferocious heave and let both go — the disc in her hand, that breath from her chest. Discus and exhalation, they flew and flew.
After the first was fully and forcefully ejected, it landed 124-feet, 6-inches away with a solid thud on new May grass. When the second was equally expelled, it made an adament noise, too, the sound of effort and relief penetrating the crisp spring air. It all was a feat that few, except those on the Hope team and in her family, understood as inspiring and even miraculous.
And not just at that moment but also a day later. Fischman’s all-out effort and that fourth-place-resulting discus throw accounted for five points, just enough for the Hope women’s track team to defeat Calvin College by four and a half points (179 – 174.5) over the course of the two-day meet and thus win the MIAA championship.
Here’s the added kicker (as if knowing she has cancer isn’t a gut-punch enough): Haley Fischman was not even supposed to be there. Two surgeries and chemotherapy initially, understandably discouraged her from competing.
Here’s the added kicker (as if knowing she has cancer isn’t a gut-punch enough): Haley Fischman was not even supposed to be there. Two surgeries and chemotherapy initially, understandably discouraged her from competing. But go she did, pulling off a championship-difference-maker after her third infusion of sickening and weakening chemo nine days prior.
Fischman has been receiving a hopefully-curative-but-potent concoction for Hodgkin’s lymphoma every other week since late March. She also has a chemo port on the left side of her chest. But what she mostly has is an indomitable spirit and a deep Christian faith, and her fortitude and charismatic, infectious smile signals a young woman at peace in the fight of her life.
“I was raised in a faithful Catholic home by amazing parents (Renee and Paul). Just loving God and knowing Jesus and just having that strong foundation,” Fischman begins. “But when I was first faced with this, I was terrified. When I had that first lymph node diagnosed (as cancerous), I spent an hour in my room just crying. But then I was like, ‘Haley, this is God’s plan.’ And I think I just slowly started to kind of realize, ‘Hey, there is suffering in the world, but God is in control. He’s going to give you all of this love. This is temporary. This is temporary.’ And so that’s what I keep reminding myself.”
Cancer’s timing and presence are always an inconvenient truth. Fischman was diagnosed with the hateful disease in February, just after the indoor track season, one week before outdoor season and two-and-a-half months from graduation. The driven and goal-oriented 22-year-old had plans, and plenty of them: to win the MIAA in discus during the outdoor season, to qualify for the NCAA championships, to travel to Zambia and serve as a missionary with Pōětĭce International for the summer of 2018, and then to enroll in graduate school in genetic counseling in the fall.
Lymphoma bullied its way into those plans. Fischman was able to delay her chemotherapy for just a bit so she could travel on spring break with the track and field team and compete for what she believed would be one last time. After that, she hunkered down every other week at home in Grand Ledge, Michigan, for her treatments at Sparrow Cancer Center in Lansing. She would return to Hope’s campus on her off-chemo weeks to do what she first had only strength enough to do: finish her classes. “Chemo really knocks it out of you,” she says. “I am hurting a lot (during treatment weeks).”
“When she sets her mind after a goal, it’s ‘damn the torpedoes full speed ahead.’ You gotta love it.”
But Fischman just could not forget or give up on her first dream of the season — to win a MIAA championship in discus. The thought of literally throwing one early success in cancer’s face was a huge motivator for a young woman who has an uncanny knack for exhibiting confident moxie and compassion all at the same time.
“When she sets her mind after a goal,” says her father, Paul, “it’s ‘Damn the torpedoes full speed ahead.’ You gotta love it.” But first, she had to get clearance from her doctors to blast her own personal torpedo.
“My oncologist is actually from Bosnia, and he’s hilarious. A very straightforward guy,” Fischman chuckles at the recollection of the conversation. “I was like, ‘Hey, I throw discus,’ and he says, ‘Oh, I know discus.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I kinda want to do this in our conference meet. This is my goal.’ He just looked at me and said, ‘If you think you can do it and you can throw it far, go right ahead.’”
The matter-of-fact conversation was all the green light Fischman needed. Practicing only 20 throws just three days before the MIAA Championships held at Adrian College, she suited up with that new and needed bandana, buoyed by being back with the team but weighed down by anxiety.
“Honestly, I was nervous. I’ve been having a lot of trouble with panic attacks, just really bad anxiety and that week was actually an all-time high,” Fischman confides. “And I think it was just because it’s my last week of college, I’m graduating, it’s conference. I had all kinds of crazy things going on so my anxiety was really rough. I was obviously trying not to go into (the league meet) with expectations, but I’m a very competitive person and I was like, ‘Hey, I want to win. I want to do well because that’s been my goal.’ I knew I was not going to be that good, but I still really wanted to do well and not be a weak link. Not just for myself but for my team because we were so close to winning.”
Fischman’s presence did not weaken the team; in fact, it helped make them champions.
Indeed, the Flying Dutch won the 2018 title in one of the closest meets in MIAA history. It could be argued that, out of all the points the Hope women’s team accumulated, the five points that Fischman secured from her first-day, discus performance (she also finished 10th and scoreless in both shot put and javelin on the second day “and I was not too happy about that!”) were the jolt the Flying Dutch needed to claim the league crown. Her presence did not weaken the team; it helped make them champions.
“Having Haley there meant more than the points she scored,” says teammate Alison Rich ’18. “It really boosted our morale. Seeing her give her all fires you up to do the same. She was just a huge inspiration for us all season long.”
The feeling was mutual. Her team uplifted Fischman, too. Throws coach Paul Markel texted weekly; her teammates constantly sent cards, flowers and called. When it came time to be back among them, Fischman continued feeling the love.
“When you get back in a competitive situation, you just do it because you love everyone you’re competing with,” Fischman explains. “(The team) has been a huge support the entire time and just having them there next to me, cheering me, just meant so much. And it felt good to feel normal again.”
Fischman hopes to finish chemotherapy soon, with radiation to come, and in that as well she’ll continue to embrace the mantra she adopted early in her cancer journey: “to be faithful, not fearful” taken from Isaiah 41:10. Many in the Hope community also have that tenet wrapped around their wrists. On the April night of the annual HOPEYs Awards that honor outstanding and inspiring performances by Hope teams and student-athletes, Fischman received the Karen Page Courage Award given in honor of Hope’s long-time women’s tennis coach who ended her brave, five-year battle with breast cancer in the summer of 2009. In a gesture of solidarity, 400 orange-and-blue “Faithful Not Fearful” wristbands were offered to those in attendance. Every single one was taken; more had to be ordered to satisfy demand.
“Having so many people supporting me has been amazing,” she says. “It would be so hard to do this without them.”
Like a trip to the NCAA championships, Fischman’s summer excursion to Africa will not occur either, but the funds she raised for her summer experience are now helping to support three local Zambian interns instead. Even in her absence, more faithful expressions are moving the kingdom of God a continent away.
One last Fischman goal will not be sidelined, however. The self-proclaimed biology nerd who graduated with honors (and a 3.68 GPA) has every intention of enrolling at University of North Carolina-Greensboro this fall for a master’s degree in genetic counseling. Her doctor has again cleared the way and Fischman again is ready to go.
If Haley Fischman has taught us anything, it is this: Always admire the visible and invisible. Appreciate the strength and faith found in both body and soul.
“A genetic counselor is to a geneticist as a nurse practitioner is to your primary-care doctor,” she explains. “We talk about how your genetics and the history of your family’s diseases are affected by genes. The area I want to go into, ironically enough, is cancer genetics, but I had made up my mind about that way before this happened. Now I guess it makes sense.”
So, the next time you marvel at athletes’ physical talents, consider too the state of their spirits. If Haley Fischman has taught us anything, it is this: Always admire the visible and invisible. Appreciate the strength and faith found in both body and soul.