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.
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.”
My name is Steve Binnig. I am a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and am a member of the Men’s Soccer team at Hope College. Here is a piece of my story.
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
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.
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.
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.”
As their bus pulled into Grissom Air Force Base, through the fence barrier and approved at the guard post, members of the Hope College baseball team could not help but feel a sense of real wonder. Before them, upon acres and acres of practical Midwest land, stood an operational military base with miles of runways and dozens of no-frills buildings. Airmen saluted and marked military vehicles whizzed by. Large aircraft stood in august readiness in the distance.
If it wasn’t blatantly clear to 31 Hope baseball players on board that bus prior to entering the base, it was now: This was not a typical team trip.
The stopover at Grissom was unique, yes, but not unexpected. It was an excursion arranged weeks earlier by Hope Coach Stu Fritz and Hope alum, Lieutenant Colonel Matt Garvelink ‘96. The Flying Dutchmen were on their way to play Hanover College on the second Saturday of March, and Grissom AFB is on the way, right off US31 in Peru, Indiana. For the past two years, Garvelink has invited the Hope team to stop in and visit the place where he’s been stationed since 2015. Together with Garvelink and other military personnel on base, the baseball players eat a meal in the dining hall, then sit a spell and learn how a national team practices tenacity, commitment, accountability, trust, loyalty, and leadership for the sake of others.
Is there a better place to hear about large-scale dedication to tenacity, commitment, accountability, trust, loyalty, and leadership?
Is there a better place to hear about large-scale dedication to those values? With each visit the Hope baseball team has made to Grissom, transformational lessons unfold into a transformational experience.
“For me, being on base reminds me that a lot of times in life, there are things so much bigger than baseball,” says senior captain Danny Carrasco, a business major from Grandville, Michigan (Calvin Christian HS). “Right now, I think the biggest thing in a lot of our lives is baseball, and we have this commitment to it and we all work really hard at it. But then we see what Lieutenant Colonel Garvelink does, what his team does, and how they are committed to a bigger, greater cause. I would say that we can translate that idea to playing baseball, but better than that, we can translate that into our lives in general.”
Like Carrasco, senior captain Landon Brower of Holland, Michigan (Holland Christian HS), has learned Grissom lessons for baseball and life. A biochemistry/molecular chemistry major, Brower has plans to enter dental school after graduation. He admits his life trajectory has been singularly focused; he’s never considered any other educational or career path. “But then I hear Lieutenant Colonel Garvelink’s story and I’m impacted by being with people who take different pathways and have so much success in different life experiences,” Brower reflects.
Garvelink’s story is a compelling one, a tale of following a calling to a military career only after obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Hope in biology with secondary education certification. Garvelink, who grew up in Holland, Michigan, taught for a year as a substitute teacher after graduation, but he felt a new nudge toward a totally different direction. So he enrolled in and graduated from Grand Valley State University with a degree in criminal justice and then entered Air Force Officer Training School in 2002, graduating as a second lieutenant. Airborne School came next at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. Since then, Garvelink has trained with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Great Britain, worked contingency response ops out of Germany, been deployed to Iraq five times since 2004, and served in every country in NATO.
“If you had asked me when I was at Hope if I was going to end up in the Air Force, I would have told you it was not even on my radar,” he says without a hint of irony directed at his metaphorical language. “It has been a fulfilling career.”
“Coach Fritz was an early example for me of a leader who really cared for his people. He treated me as an equal part of the team.”
Garvelink and Fritz’s longtime friendship started during the head coach’s first two seasons and the alum’s last two springs at Hope. The-now lieutenant colonel served as the student manager for Hope baseball team, and the coach and officer have remained in contact ever since, as much as they could anyway when Garvelink was off serving overseas. When he returned closer to home at Grissom, “Stu and I connected and talked about the team stopping by the base,” Garvelink explains. “My two years with the team are highlights of my time at Hope. Coach Fritz was an early example for me of a leader who really cared for his people. He treated me as an equal part of the team.”
Garvelink’s leadership style is one for interpersonal priorities, too. “You aren’t a good leader,” he says, “if you can’t tell if your team members have, or have not, brushed their teeth.” He doesn’t mean that he gets all up in their business, though; he means that good leadership happens face-to-face and with relational intention. As he oversees a squadron of 150 full-time and reservist airmen and women as the commander of the base’s defense unit, he stands by the credo that good teams must consist equally of good leaders and good followers. “I’ve seen it ultimately save lives,” he reasons.
“Being able to see the people on that base has been really great, and it’s open my eyes to a dedication to something bigger.”
Garvelink passes on this and other pieces of their leadership philosophy to the Hope baseball team every time they stop by Grissom. He’s happy to take the time to not only impart his hard-earned thoughts on leadership but also to show the team technologies of the modern military. It’s a way of giving back and moving forward.
“I think it’s important for our kids to see leadership in a different environment and to see trust and loyalty and love and cohesiveness there,” says Fritz, now in his 25th season coaching at Hope. “One of the things I tell our guys all the time is that being a student-athlete is a privilege, not a right. And those privileges that they have are given to them because people are willing to do what Matt Garvelink does.”
“Across Division III, there cannot be very many college athletes who get to see an Air Force base in real life,” Brower relates. “When we’re in Holland, Michigan, we don’t really think about who’s out there making careers out of protecting our freedoms and keeping us safe. Being able to see the people on that base has been really great, and it’s opened my eyes to a dedication to something bigger. I’m definitely more appreciative because of it.”
As individuals, our preferred way of learning can be as varied as the methods we use. But simply learning is not always enough. Success in a class, and more importantly in a professional career, is related to our ability to apply what we learn.
As faculty in the Department of Kinesiology, we strongly believe in experiential learning opportunities as a way to either make or strengthen the connections between coursework and professional application. That’s why we include internships, research, and laboratory expectations as part of our curriculum in the exercise science major.
One such experiential learning opportunity is the cadaver lab as part of our Human Anatomy course. Frequently institutions combine the study of human function (physiology) and structure (anatomy) into one large course. At Hope, we have chosen to split these courses into separate classes in an attempt to thoroughly explore each topic in more depth and breadth. The idea of the Human Anatomy Cadaver Lab was initiated to meet this goal and to that end an agreement was struck with the Michigan State Willed Body Program to provide whole body cadavers for educational study.
Serving students in exercise science, nursing, and other pre-health programs, the cadaver lab is run by kinesiology professors Drs. Kirk Brumels and Kevin Cole. Along with selected students who help prepare and facilitate study with the cadavers, Brumels and Cole experience first hand the benefits of such a program and love to hear from students about their experience.
Sutton Williams, a 2014 graduate with a major in exercise science and current doctoral candidate in Human Anatomy at the University of Mississippi, believes that his career choice was directly influenced by the opportunity to study cadavers at Hope. Sutton writes:
“The cadaver laboratory at Hope was certainly a major highlight of my undergraduate education; being able to work so closely with faculty members during my time in the lab was an incredible experience. It not only fostered my fascination for the human body, it also provided me with an unparalleled educational experience for the learning of human anatomy. Without the cadaver lab I definitely would not be in the position I am today.
The cadaver lab is one of the most incredible and important educational experiences a pre-health related professional student can have. After working with health related professional students over the past four years during my doctoral work at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, I can say with certainty that exposure to a cadaver laboratory before entering medical school (or any other health related professional school) offers students a great advantage going forward in their professional studies.”
Sutton’s experience is not unique. Many graduates write back to share the benefit of the opportunities afforded them at Hope and especially in the cadaver lab. Working with and studying from cadavers definitely sets the standards high for our students and allows them to succeed in their chosen career or graduate programs. Rachael Rebhan ‘14 graduated with a major in exercise science and is currently a student in the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Rachel shares the following related to the privilege and advantage of her experiential learning experience with cadavers while at Hope:
“While working to earn my DPT at Mayo Clinic, I found myself – more often than not – thinking back and being so thankful for the academic privileges Hope College had offered to me in the preceding years. Hope College set me up for success in a way I did not know or appreciate at the time. I didn’t realize just how many opportunities I came across due to the generous and giving community/alumni, and how those would come to fruition until I was faced with the hardest academic rigor in my professional career while working for my doctorate. In particular, the Cadaver Lab allowed for a skill level that most undergraduate colleges only dream to be able to provide – it put me ahead by almost an entire semester and gave me a knowledge base that my graduate professors and fellow classmates recognized. I thank Hope College for that.”
Like Rachel and Sutton, we too thank Hope College for supporting this program as we explore the “fearfully and wonderfully made” human body through lecture and lab experiences. We hope that you come join us. See you in the lab!
Did you take Human Anatomy? Tell us about your experience, we’d love to hear how it has impacted your studies and/or career path!
It is funny now as I look back on my 18 year-old self about to start college. I was under the impression, as most soon-to-be college students are, that I had to know what I was going to study for the next four years as soon as I stepped foot on campus. Then after graduation, I was supposed get a job in that field and work at it for the rest of my life. I mean, who can blame me, or most college freshmen, for thinking this way? Every adult I encountered, after all, was asking, “So, what are you going to study?” This really means, “So, have you figured out what you are going to do for the rest of your life?” At least, it felt that way to me. I was supposed to be able to make this important decision before I even took a college class, right?
Well, no, of course not. My 23-year-old self knows that my 18-year-old self didn’t have to feel this way. But even though I fell victim to the overwhelming pressure of having to figure my professional life out back then, there were a few things I knew to be true about myself. I have always been creative, stubborn and independent. I am passionate about health and wellness, and I am curious about anatomy and nutrition. But, if I am being completely honest, a lot of these passions stemmed from insecurities I had. Like many young girls, I struggled with body image and lacked self-esteem. So when I had to pick a major, I chose exercise science because I figured that would help me understand how I could control my body better, and then when I graduated, I could help other people too.
That was the plan. I wasn’t sure how to make it happen, but I was going to stick with that plan, God willing.
So, I majored in exercise science, as I said, and enjoyed my classes very much, but I struggled with what I wanted to do when I graduated. I was in a constant battle between trusting God and His plan for me and my own fears and insecurities about my life. In the deepest part of my heart, I always knew that I was going to do something great, and that God was going to open doors at the right time. But how would I know when and where to find them?
The summer before my senior year, I went on Hope’s Vienna May and June terms. Before I returned to the U.S, I decided to extend my trip and went to visit my father’s cousin who lives in Germany. It was here that I discovered the tiger nut. This common food item to my distant family was completely foreign to me, but I fell in love with it so I brought some home for my family to try. Everyone loved it. The tiger nut breakfast porridge I had in Germany turned into a channel for my passion and dreams. You see, the tiger nut isn’t actually a nut; it is a small root vegetable that is high in iron, magnesium, and potassium. A powerhouse food, to say the least. But I had a problem when I got back home to Michigan. The tiger nut is not readily available in America.
Fast forward two years and I am now a small business owner at age 23, an unexpected and unordinary outcome of my exercise science degree which obviously did not include classes on how to run a business. But this is the beauty of a degree from liberal arts college. I discovered one goal of a Hope College education is to expose me to more than just my major; Hope allows me, encourages me even, to acquire knowledge and skills in other disciplines too.
It was during the second half of my Hope College career, I started taking a few leadership classes. Ultimately these additional courses helped lead me to where I am today: as the proud owner of Spera Foods. (Spera, as you may know, means hope!) I gained my passion for the human body and my understanding of the importance of nutrition for human function during my exercise science studies. However, it was my time in Hope’s Leadership program and HEI (Hope Entrepreneurial Institute) where I gained knowledge and confidence to create a small business.
Without one or the other academic experience, my journey may have looked significantly different, but thanks to the depth and breadth of coursework at Hope, I am here today looking at my past with a smile and a sigh of relief that I couldn’t have taken when I first started school. I am so glad I had the opportunity to study abroad and discover the tiger nut. It was a missing piece to the puzzle I started to solve my junior year. My schedule had more flexibility then and I started taking classes outside of the kinesiology department. My senior self strategized and found a class that fit in my schedule, that I heard was fun and interesting. That class was Leadership 231: Leading the Startup Process.
Senior year came with the perfect combination of peace and fear. I had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated, but I also knew God had a plan. During my time in my leadership class, I started to use my creativity to solve a problem: how to find access to tiger nut products and turn that access into a business. All the pieces started to fall into place when I created Spera Foods. What started a college major, and then as a class project due to a liberal arts education, has now turned into my career. And it is the perfect channel for my passion.
A team is a family. The phrase has been used so often in the sports world lexicon that it’s prone to sounding trite or cliché. A team is a family. Is it predictable? Maybe. Overused? Possibly. But clichés are also this: they are true.
To say A team is a family is to recognize that athletes and coaches bond together for relational reasons as strong and real as blood relatives do for genetic ones. And at Hope, to say A team is a family is to also know that those familial feelings extend far beyond one team to encompass an entire athletic program, from administrators to support staff to parents to even spectators… for the sake of all and for the sake of one.
Just ask Hope junior basketball player Dennis Towns.
Late in a game during his freshmen year at Hope, Towns was flying. A gravity-defying leap for a rebound — a Towns’ trademark lifted high a hundred times before in DeVos Fieldhouse — looked so superhuman that his hang-time bordered on the surreal. Well, at least it did until he landed. Reality hit when Towns came down to earth.
Here, let him tell you.
“There was about 30 seconds left in the game and we were on defense and the other team missed about five layups in a row. So, I kept jumping for the rebound and eventually on the last one, my foot was kind of turned inward a little bit. So, when I came down, the outside of my foot landed on top of someone else’s foot. And I was coming down from a high jump, too. Anyway, my ankle rolled almost completely over and dislocated and slid right out of place. I didn’t feel anything break, but when I sat down and looked at my foot, it was like, ‘oh, my goodness.’ I had never been injured previously up until that point. Like never! I had never missed a game in high school or college. Just seeing that was mind blowing.”
The “that” that Towns saw — as well as most in attendance in DeVos — was a foot pointing in a direction that no human foot is meant to point. It was turned out in an almost perpendicular manner to the side of his leg, a wrong-way right angle.
“The support that everyone in the building showed my mom that night was very touching, and I knew that it was very genuine.”
Towns grabbed at his ankle in panic and pain. Gasps went up and then silence came over the crowd. Hope’s athletic trainers sprang into action while the faces of teammates and coaches expressed immediate concern. And in the stands, Towns’ mother, Carol, was distraught.
“When she saw that, she was just very flustered. The support that everyone in the building showed my mom that night was very touching, and I knew that it was very genuine,” says Towns, a native of Flint, Michigan, and graduate of Flint Powers Catholic. “That’s one thing I am very grateful to the Hope community for because my mom was hysterical. She had never seen me hurt before. Everyone was offering to help — the athletic trainers, basketball parents and even spectators. And of course, Coach was there for me and her too.”
After x-rays confirmed no break but a severe dislocation and after Carol Towns realized her son would be well cared for and play again at Hope, Dennis Towns went about the arduous work of rehab, hours of physical pushing and, of course, patience. And the support for the Townses kept rolling in. A get-well card was sent to Dennis from Hope basketball fans in attendance at a H-Club luncheon; athletic trainer Tim Koberna and jayvee coach Chad Carlson attended his first doctor’s appointment along with Carol; and, text and email messages of concern and well wishes dinged notifications of concern and encouragement to both of their phones.
“I mean, people I didn’t even know from Hope were checking in and asking me how things were going for Dennis,” offers Carol. “The support we received from the whole Hope community was phenomenal.”
By his sophomore year, Towns was ready to play again; his ankle healed, he became an integral cog off the bench during Hope’s 2016-17 MIAA championship season. This year, the computer science major, who also dabbles in piano and speaks Japanese, is projected to be a starting forward.
“Dennis can shoot that mid-range baseline jumper, which is kind of a no man’s land shot, but he loves it,” says Mitchell, now in his fourth year as Hope’s head coach. “Every day with Dennis seems like this explosion of potential and just a kind of joy for the game. He has an energy that reverberates.”
“I feel I can always go to him for anything. I think that will remain even after I graduate.”
Those are words Towns appreciates though they’re not totally new to his ears. Mitchell has not only been a coach but a mentor to Towns, a voice of encouragement and direction.
“Coach has been confident in me from the beginning,” Towns says. “That’s one thing I can definitely say about our relationship. I’ve always felt like he believed in me as a player and a person. I’m glad that is a quality that he has because last year, being a sophomore on varsity with all the upperclassmen, it was like you can fall into a funk, wondering if you’re going to play. But, Coach always was there to encourage me to work hard. When I’m on the court, I’ve always been someone to give it all I have. He sees that and encourages that. I feel I can always go to him for anything. I think that will remain even after I graduate.”
“That’s who we all are at Hope. Maybe a lot of folks don’t realize that from the tri-fold brochure, but I think once they are here, they quickly see that Hope is a place that cares deeply about players and students.”
A team is a family. And not just for one season but beyond. For Mitchell, coaching basketball is as much about loving people as loving the game… and in that order.
“I’m not looking for a pat on the back. I just think that’s the best part of coaching,” Mitchell explains. “It isn’t practice; it’s the relationships. It’s seeing Dennis’ mom getting emotional about the love she received that night (of his injury) and how everybody just kind of helped her decompress and assured her that everything was going to be okay. As she’s walking from the arena to the training room and then heading to the hospital, it was really hard for her. And so I think the support of Hope and our coaching staff and our team was reassuring.”
“But that’s what Hope is,” he continues. “That’s who we all are at Hope. Maybe a lot of folks don’t realize that from the tri-fold brochure, but I think once they are here, they quickly see that Hope is a place that cares deeply about players and students…. I would much rather get invited to a player’s wedding than have him score 20 points. Lifelong relationships are what this is all about.”
Then Mitchell pauses and smiles and adds,
“But if I’m being completely honest, the 20 points is good too.”