After graduating from Hope in 2015, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill. During my time at UNC, I became increasingly curious about the bigger questions behind my discipline: What is health? To what extent should we pursue it through exercise? I was troubled that no one in the science community seemed to be asking these questions. Before starting my Ph.D., I took a year off to study the theology of health and medicine at Duke Divinity School. Since being at Duke, I’ve decided to switch paths and pursue a Ph.D. in Practical Theology, examining how the Christian faith ought to form and inform our pursuit of health through exercise. My Ph.D. goal is to construct a Theology of Physical Fitness. Caring for the body is important, but if we want our pursuit of fitness to be properly ordered, we need to place it within the larger narrative of creation and redemption. We also need to consider biblical accounts of strength and weakness, and what it means to be truly human. I believe my time at Hope prepared me well for this path by allowing me to study the sciences in a liberal arts context with a rich Christian heritage. At Hope, students are invited to pursue truth as whole persons and no questions are off the table. My hope is that the work I’m doing will enable not only academics and health professionals, but all Christians to engage with fitness culture faithfully.
Hello everyone, my name is Adam Ford and I am the Co-Director of the Professional Tennis Management Program(PTM) here at Hope College. If you’re wondering what a Professional Tennis Management program is, it is a combination of academic coursework and practical experiences that prepare college students for a career in the tennis industry. Via accreditation through the United States Tennis Association (the governing body for tennis in the United States), ours is one of nine colleges in the entire country that offers this program. PTM students at Hope College can pick any major they want and add the PTM certificate via a specific Kinesiology minor while studying at Hope. Typically, PTM graduates have a 100% job placement rate due to a great demand for tennis-teaching professionals at clubs.
Every year, our other Co-Director, Jorge Capestany, runs the American Express Fan Experience court at the U.S. Open in New York City. In the past few years, Jorge has been allowed to bring his own supporting staff and tennis pros to assist him. Thus, many of our students have had the opportunity to teach at the U.S. Open, and participate in many other activities at this international tennis event.
A typical day of a PTM student begins when they arrive on-site around 10:30 a.m. They are given credentials when they first arrive, which allows them to get to just about anywhere on site. The professional matches begin at 11:00 a.m. However, there are six practice courts that are occupied all day by pros like Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Coco Gauff, and Novak Djokovic. If they are playing a match that day, they might not be on the practice courts. The practice courts are a great opportunity to get up close to the pros and potentially snag some autographs. At 1:00 p.m., Jorge and the PTM students teach their first class — a ten-and-under class. Any 10-year-old or younger at the Open may participate at the Fan Experience Court. This runs for about two hours, then there is a break from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. This allows the PTM students to watch some more professional tennis and also meet some very successful people in the tennis industry. Jorge and I try to set up a few of these short meetings for our students to show them all of the possible paths they can take to find their dream career in the tennis industry. Then they are back on the court at 5:00 p.m. to teach an adult tennis group for one more hour. Teaching at the U.S. Open can be a nerve-racking thing, but our students handled it well. After all their time on the court, the students are free to roam the grounds and view some more tennis.
One of our senior PTM students, Amanda Bandrowski, was kind enough to share her very own experience with us:
“My Uber driver dropped me off near the U.S. Open grounds, and the first thing I see is the massive globe. This globe reaches 140 feet high, 120 feet in diameter, and is surrounded by a large fountain. It stands there, overlooking the U.S. Open and the rest of Queens as a subtle tip of the hat to the 1964 World’s Fair, whose grounds were transformed into the very place I was standing. As I look past the globe, I see it, the historic epicenter of American Tennis: Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. My dreams of being at the U.S. Open had finally come true.
Through the front entrance, I walked through the court of champions, which is a courtyard-like area depicting all the greatest players who earned the title most dream of: champion. From Serena and Venus Williams to Jimmy Connors, this open area outlines the past, while making room for the future.
I entered before the general public was allowed in because of my credentials. I took this opportunity to take in the setting and explore. A beautiful fountain sprawled in front of Arthur Ashe Stadium, Arthur Ashe being the first African American to win the U.S. Open. It is the main court at the Open, seating 23,771. Looking around and seeing the different paths that led all over the grounds, I was elated that I finally made it. I meandered all over the grounds, trying to see as much as I could before the masses filled the space. I eventually found myself watching some of the professionals in the tournament warm-up. Now, in tennis, their warming up is almost as impressive as watching them play. The main difference is that you get to see more action in practice than in play, taking in the precision and athleticism only found in elite athletes.
Once people started gathering, I made my way to the American Express Fan Experience Court. This was the technical reason for my adventure, but in truth, it was more of a catalyst. I met up with the other people from Hope College who I was working with. Jorge gave us the lowdown on what to expect.”
“The actual work was not much different than working at the Dewitt Tennis Center, back at Hope. Tennis is tennis, and at this point, I have learned how to work with all ages from kids to adults. With the adults, we did classic drills that Jorge devised early in his teaching career. With the young kids, we worked on easy skills that led to quick success. The work was both tiring and gratifying, as teaching always is.”
In addition to the opportunities for our students at the U.S. Open, Jorge and I also take them on a trip to the United States Tennis Association National Campus in Orlando, Florida. The USTA National Campus is a 110 tennis court facility that USTA calls the “Home of American Tennis”. This trip is a bit more informal, with a lot of “meet and greet” opportunities with very important people in the tennis industry. Also, our students to hit/play on both the hard and clay courts found at the National Campus. This is a unique opportunity since clay courts are rare in the midwest.
While we were on our last visit to the National Campus, our PTM students met a woman named Kathy Woods, who is the Director of Tennis. It was through this meeting that Amanda was able to obtain a summer internship at the National Campus. Amanda remembers:
“Talking with Kathy Woods was a real treat because I had fantasies of working at the United States Tennis Association National Tennis Campus in Orlando Florida. It was because of the Hope College Professional Tennis Management (PTM) that this opportunity presented itself. PTM has opened so many doors for me that my problem has been picking which ones to go through. No matter the roads I take, I know that PTM has prepared me for the demands of the tennis world, and I am excited to get started.”
Two years ago, the PTM program at Hope College didn’t exist. Now, we have eight students and we are growing fast. We are excited about the future for both our students and our program. If you want to receive more information, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark your calendars for the 2nd Global Congress on Sport and Christianity to take place on October 23-27 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The gathering will include prominent coaches, athletes, pastors and theologians from all over the world.
The event will take place at Calvin University, but Hope College and Calvin are co-hosts. Hope Professor Chad Carlson and Calvin Professor Brian Bolt have teamed up to co-direct the event with the help of student ambassadors from each school.
“This is a unique event in that Hope and Calvin are working together—despite our athletic rivalry—to talk about sport and Christianity,” Carlson admits with a chuckle. He is a former Hope athlete and coach while Bolt is a former Calvin athlete and coaches their men’s golf team. Both know the rivalry well.
“This is also a unique event in that we’re bringing academics and practitioners together to share ideas about content meaningful to both groups.” Carlson admits that he and Bolt fall into both categories, sharing that, like so many others, they are “curious practitioners.” Topics of discussion at the Congress will center around the relationship between sport and faith, the cultural impact the two have had together, and the role that sports can play in a life of faith.
The congress includes more than 100 presentations spread out over four days with an additional 10 keynote speakers scheduled. The keynote list includes:
- Tim Tebow: professional athlete and 2007 Heisman Trophy winner
- Gary Thomas: evangelical author and public speaker
- Loretta Claiborne: 1996 recipient of the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage
- Amber Warners: three-time NCAA championship volleyball coach
- Scott Kretchmar: sport philosopher, kinesiologist, and pastor
- Jessica Keating: life and human dignity expert
- Fred Johnson: historian, politician, and novelist
- Tinyiko Maluleke: public theologian and theology professor
- Nick Watson and Andrew Parker: psychologists and chaplaincy leaders
- Miroslav Volf: renowned theologian and author
The overarching focus of the event is to bring together people from all over the world and all walks of life for a few days to unite in a love of sports and frank conversation about its relationship with the Christian faith.
Join us for this special time in October when sports and religion collide, and wonderful discussions open up to bring people together in a way that only sports can.
Both occasions left me feeling proud and grateful, but a little uneasy. Did the translator have questions while working on this project and, if so, who answered them? Did they get the translation right? Was my worldview big enough when I was writing to include audiences around the world? What am I supposed to do with 10 copies of a book about volleyball written in Greek and Chinese?
One of the reasons I was excited to write this book in the first place was the image of a parent reading it in order to help coach their child’s team; the image of a student in an activity class learning to love a new game they never had the opportunity to play competitively; the image of a young boy or girl unwrapping it as a present on Christmas morning eager to learn more about a sport they love. Those are not images unique to those who speak English but occur in cultures around the world. I am glad that they have access to this book and hope that it helps cultivate a love for sport and play that can’t be confined to specific characters or punctuation.
It was supposed to be the other way around. I should have been the one doing the teaching. However, the act of learning fell squarely on my shoulders. Let me explain.
Our team consisted of eight student-athletes and three faculty/staff members. We were a rag-tag collection of God’s children who were prompted, prodded, encouraged and coerced into joining together to serve God in Uganda, Africa as part of the Hope College SEED program (Sport Evangelism to Equip Disciples). This program is offered through generous support of Sawyer Products and at its core is undertaken to teach student-athletes the power of sport as a way to engage in ministry. It is an opportunity for students to come alongside campus and ministry leaders to learn more about God and themselves, as well as, acquiring skills related to cultural competence and living into their faith both at home and in the global church.
Team Uganda consisted of friends and strangers with mixed genders, race, backgrounds, sport participation, ages, and experiences. It was a group that God had magnificently put together and orchestrated for purposes known only to Him. We partnered with the ministry of Sports Outreach to serve God and the global church via sport and personal interactions as part of an ongoing ministry in the slums of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda and rural villages near Gulu in the war torn northern region of the country.
The mission statement of Sports Outreach is to “restore hope and transform lives” and through the grace and power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, I would say mission accomplished. We saw firsthand the power and impact of the Sports Outreach staff as they engaged individuals participating in their ministry in life changing conversations and service centered around the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Throughout our time serving with Sports Outreach in Uganda, we had significant time to spend and learn with each other. During trip planning we were unaware of why God had put us ALL together or why He had formed this exact group, but we trusted in the fact that since each person felt called to be part of this trip, God had something in store for us. Over time, some reasons have become clear, some are actively being revealed, while others are yet to be discovered. However, what we do know is that God met each of us in places and ways that demonstrate His love for us, while teaching us lessons to facilitate further growth and understanding of our calling and vocation.
As a faculty member and “elder statesman” of the group, I thought my experiences and time spent in the church or classroom would be called upon often during our time together. I believed that teaching or imparting whatever wisdom someone might think I possess was something I would be expected to do. I thought that was a role that I was to fill. However, God had other plans and it became quickly apparent that His plans were not for me to teach but for me to learn. My world and expectations were turned upside down. The teacher became the student as God used those whom I considered pupils to educate me on how to be vulnerable, present, engaged, compassionate, and fervent in faith formation.
Through the students, I saw God in their ability to accept circumstances and each other for what and who they are. I was shown how to enthusiastically embrace the fact that life is a journey and it is more important to keep moving than feeling sorry for ourselves or getting stuck and dwelling on the failures or disappointments.
Lessons on challenging ourselves, stepping out in faith, and being comfortable with the uncomfortable were on the syllabus. Modules about importance of prayer, Bible reading, journaling, and being humble enough to ask questions of each other and God were lab activities that were explored. And classroom demonstrations about how to engage and live out the Fruits of the Spirit withstood the test of time and served as the answer key for how we all should live in our broken world.
So, from an educator who received an education, I thank Erica, Olivia, Daniel, Hayden, Colleen, Alli, Noah and Maddie for being willing to serve God through your life and actions. You are wonderful students but even better teachers.
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.”
by Steve Binnig (’19)
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
from creator Stephen Binnig
The mission of the Hope Athletes’ Journal is to give members of the Hope Athletics Community a medium where they can share their stories to relate to, understand, and appreciate coaches, players, prospective students, and fans beyond the game. My goal through this project is that those in and around our community will 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 me via email at Stephen.Binnig@hope.edu.
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
By Emily Smith (’15)
During the first year of graduate school, when the material is the most overwhelming and free time is a myth, you find yourself building strong bonds with your colleagues as you commiserate about the journey ahead of you and reminisce about all the different paths that brought you together. At the University of Montana, my physical therapy class consisted of previous school teachers, construction workers, massage therapists, horse breeders, collegiate athletes, and freshly minted college graduates. Regardless of where we had come from, we all had the common grit and determination that comes with working hard to achieve high goals. Unanimously, we knew that was how we would survive graduate school too—pressing on with no intention of stopping now.
As we conquered physical therapy school together, I gave thanks on more than one occasion for how well prepared I felt by my Hope College undergraduate degrees (Exercise Science and Spanish). Any statistic can speak to the small class sizes at Hope College, which for me created a safe environment to foster my intellectual curiosity and integrity. But what statistics can’t show you is how exceptional the professors are—all of whom learned my name, even in the “larger” lecture halls. Having this personal connection with the professors encouraged me to succeed. I was not just another face in the crowd. From these relationships came powerful role models, lofty expectations, and personalized letters of recommendation that defied the generic mold. I’m sure these further enabled my success. It’s no wonder all the places Hope students have gone.
More than that, though, I felt Hope College prepared me for the pace and rigor that grad school tosses at its students. That first year of grad school is still the most difficult challenge that I have taken on to date, but I discovered that I had the foundation of solid knowledge and the study skills to do more than just memorize material. Suddenly, we have practical examinations that need us to demonstrate not only academic mastery, but the ability to perform under pressure with confidence and social competence. Suddenly, everything matters more than grades. I am dealing with real pain and human lives now. Some of my grad school peers really struggled under that pressure. I felt that the small lab class sizes in Hope College’s kinesiology department, with hands-on application, had provided the perfect stepping stone for success for me.
By talking with my PT classmates, I also realized just how much the Hope College pre-health professional advisor had done for me. This service is nearly non-existent at other schools, which baffles me considering how overwhelming the whole process is—even with help. At Hope, the pre-health professional advisor met one-on-one with each of her students applying to grad schools to review resumes, revise essays, and double check that credit requirements had all been met. She was both challenging and reassuring—letting us know that we were setting our sights high, but at the same time, that is exactly what Hope College had prepared us for.
My kinesiology department academic advisor, Dr. Maureen Dunn, also deserves huge thanks. She knew me by name. She knew which sport I played, which degree my younger sister was also pursuing at Hope (now a proud, successful nursing graduate!), and where I wanted my bachelor’s degrees to take me. She encouraged me and helped me reason through different career paths until I decided on physical therapy. I also was able to interact with her as my professor. She is one who recognizes a student’s potential and isn’t afraid to push them to get there. The challenge presented by her classes lead to deeper retention in subject areas that I continue to use as I further my career and education.
With the intimacy that Hope College’s education provided, I was guided to become a confident and capable student who went on to become the president of my graduate school class for the Physical Therapy Student Association. I was awarded a variety of scholarships and awards for leadership, patient and peer relationships, and academic achievement from both my faculty and my classmates, culminating with the Vince Wilson Outstanding Achievement Award, which they tout as their “highest honor” awarded to only one student in the entire school. I feel so blessed by the successes I have found with this phase of my life. All of my future patients and I owe many thanks to the kinesiology faculty at Hope for the exceptional experience and opportunities they provided to succeed.
My plans, now that I have graduated with my doctorate and passed boards with a license to practice, are to attend the University of Utah’s Orthopedic Residency program to become a specialist in the field of orthopedics. This will consist of a personal patient caseload, as well as, research, mentoring, volunteering, and teaching at the University of Utah. I hope to continue to pay forward the model of caring, compassionate instruction that I received from Hope College professors to foster my own students’ successes someday.
by Eva Dean Folkert
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 going.
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 going. 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.
By Eva Dean Folkert
Alexis Thompson ‘17 would not quit. It was not even a consideration. Sure, her interview process was arduous — 11 interviews in all for Stryker Corporation, a leader in medical and surgical equipment and supplies — but she was used to hard work, to tenacity, to playing until the final whistle. Those were lessons, Thompson says, she learned well after four years earning her degree and playing a varsity sport at Hope College.
So for three months of interviews that ranged from the traditional sit-down question-and-answer sessions with potential bosses, to meetings in hospitals with potential clients, to taking a Gallup® StrengthsQuest test, to writing an essay about perseverance, to delivering a mock sales call, Thompson never gave up. And because she did, she is now a trauma sales associate for Stryker — named on Fortune magazine’s Top 100 Best Places to Work at #16 — and her sales territory is the east side of the state of Michigan.
Sports, it’s often been said, build character. But they do even more than that.
“Stryker is very adamant about maintaining a high-performing culture,” says Austin Brancheau ’12, also a Hope graduate and Thompson’s direct report. “I don’t think it’s a secret that our interview process is very selective and lengthy. It’s about finding the right people to fit in on the right team.
“That said, Alexis showed a lot of grit when she interviewed and grit is something that I think stems from her athletics experience playing volleyball at Hope. Whereas I think a lot of other people may have thrown in the towel after maybe the fifth step, Alexis went the extra mile to continue to pursue the next follow-up interview. She clearly demonstrated the tenacity to keep on pursuing this position with passion. And I think playing volleyball for Hope had a lot to do with that.”
Sports, it’s often been said, build character. But they do even more than that. Playing a sport, especially at the college level, builds a strong and dogged work ethic for those who wish to pursue excellence. While Thompson may have come to Hope with some understanding of that work ethic, she believes it was clarified and embodied further in Hope volleyball.
“Playing on a nationally ranked volleyball team for all four years, I knew I was playing with the best of the best,” explains Thompson, who was the Flying Dutch’s libero. “With Coach (Becky) Schmidt, you never settle. It’s always go, go, go. I knew if I didn’t come in (to practice) early or stay late to get extra reps, I wasn’t going get any better. Quitting was never an option. Having that engraved in my head all four years in volleyball and in my classes, I think, transferred into my mindset for my career. So I study hard for my cases. I prepare hard for my sales calls. I know I can’t wing it and hope it goes well.”
As a trauma sales associate, Thompson not only makes sales calls to introduce surgeons and medical staff to the latest medical device innovations offered by Stryker to better treat patients, she also supports those medical personnel who use Stryker products when they are in the operating room. As surgeons repair broken bones or replace hips and knees, Thompson is with them in surgery to provide technical support. If there are any questions regarding Stryker instrumentation, she provides operating-room-ready solutions during surgeries that can be as short as 40 minutes or as long as six hours.
“I study hard for my cases. I prepare hard for my sales calls. I know I can’t wing it and hope it goes well.”
Though she first came to Hope to be a nursing major, Thompson changed her mind as a sophomore and majored in business instead. Her goal from then on was to work in a business in a health-related field. And that is why she persisted to become a Stryker employee. The former volleyball player felt it was the best place to use all of her Hope-taught talents and skills.
“The variety of classes I was able to take at Hope made me well-rounded for this job,” Thompson says. “I might not have had the anatomy knowledge but through business classes and communication classes, I was able to be a better communicator. Hope is a challenging place, both academically and athletically. I think when you’re surrounded by so many people who are succeeding and want to do well in life, that pushes you to be better, too. Being surrounded by that in my Hope classes, in Hope athletics definitely prepared me for this job at Stryker.”
And, no doubt, in life.