Brittany Aanderud (center)
Renowned author and activist Helen Keller once said, "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."
From early childhood, Liberty women's soccer senior midfielder Brittany Aanderud became accustomed to walking in the dark with her best friend. She and her father Stephen were inseparable – and every night they took walks together, discussing life, faith, soccer and a myriad of other topics.
Soccer was a huge part of their father-daughter bond. Stephen, a high school soccer coach, taught Aanderud the game. When her older brother and sisters competed in their respective soccer games, Aanderud's father, who coached all of them, made sure his youngest child was there to watch. She sat there, soaking it all in, waiting for her day to play.
Growing up, Aaunderud spent many days and nights kicking the soccer ball around with her father and siblings. In these moments, Stephen instilled a very important quality in his daughter.
"I always told my mom I had ‘determption,'" Aanderud recounted. "That was my word, but I meant determination."
Aanderud's siblings went on to compete in other sports. However, Aanderud's love for soccer was so strong, she continued to learn the ins and outs of the game under the tutelage of her father.
"[Soccer] was my absolute passion," Aanderud stated. "I would train with my dad 3-4 times a week. Any time I was stressed or anything, going out to play was my relief. There was just this feeling I got whenever I played the game that made me stick with it."
While her father's coaching style could be intense at times, Aanderud thrived in it. The impromptu late night and early morning training sessions prepared her for her college career. Committing to her hometown school Cal State Fullerton initially, Aanderud began to have doubts after her official visit.
"Immediately my dad said, ‘What about Liberty?'" Aanderud recalled. "My brother was there and he said it changed his life."
Leaving the comfort of home and the mentorship of her father behind was not the easiest decision, but the individuals Aanderud encountered in her next chapter of life helped remedy some of the doubts.
Upon signing with Liberty, Aanderud joined a recruiting class that included forward Crystal Elmers, midfielder Rebekah Page, defenders Jaime Bouffard and Alex Mack and goalkeeper Holly Van Noord.
From day one, the group made an impact on the program, snatching up their respective starting spots and refusing to let them go. Aanderud quickly realized this group had the same "determption" she did.
"It was just so special," Aanderud said. "I don't even know how to explain it. It's like God perfectly knit us together. Before I came here I was always praying for a core group of friends."
The group's chemistry culminated in 2013, as they were instrumental in guiding the Lady Flames to its fourth Big South Championship in program history.
Prior to the championship game against Radford, Aanderud had a phone conservation with her father. He instructed her to score early. The lifelong pupil did just that, recording a goal in the 15th minute and contributing a pair of assists in the 5-0 victory (Nov. 10, 2013).
Afterwards, Aanderud remembered the postgame phone call she had with her father.
"He had so much joy," Aanderud stated. "I lost two big championships in high school so he was so excited for me to finally get that. He told me how proud he was of me. To hear the happiness and joy in his voice was probably my favorite moment."
The father-daughter phone calls came to an abrupt end on Dec. 8, 2013. That day, Aanderud received a different call, this time from her aunt. She was informed that her father had died of a sudden heart attack. He was 59 years old.
Aanderud immediately flew out to her father's funeral in California, but she wasn't alone on the long flight. Page, her teammate and one of the core friends she had prayed for, sat next to her.
"Bekah was just the most amazing person that could ever be my side," Aanderud noted. "That was just the defining moment. This is exactly why I'm [at Liberty]. No other school would I get this support and love. It was so genuine."
"Obviously she was hurting more than I can imagine," Page said. "She kept saying, ‘I don't know what God is doing. I don't understand, but I know there is something good [that's going to come] out of it. I know my dad wouldn't want to be anywhere else.' It was so amazing just to see that even through her hurt, the positivity and the good she was finding in it."
Page spent the entire week with Aanderud and was right by her side during the funeral service. Over 600 people attended, many of whom, like Aanderud, were coached by her father.
Liberty assistant coach Adam Godwin was also in attendance, and recalled the moment when Aanderud stepped on the podium to share a few words about her father.
"I don't think I could have done that," he said. "Her strength to be able to stand up in front of all those people and say what her dad meant to her was really powerful."
Nearly two years after the loss of her father, Aanderud's friends and teammates have rallied around her, becoming her new support system. Through the birthdays, holidays and difficult days, that support has been there. Godwin has seen some of those tough days first hand, but he's also seen the quality Stephen passed along to his daughter – determination.
"That spring when she came back, she didn't take one day off," Godwin stated. "Some days you could tell it was the last place she wanted to be. But she just went into "Brittany mode" and did what Brittany does – work hard and push her teammates."
Aanderud has always been someone who relishes friendship, but she found herself without her friends and teammates while playing soccer in Charlotte, N.C., this past summer. While Aanderud felt alone at times during her stay in the Queen City, she persevered and returned to the Lady Flames' lineup this season appreciating the important people in her life even more.
"As she has come back this fall, you can see that not only is Brittany back, but it is a stronger more mature Brittany," Godwin stated. "It's been really great to see a smile back on her face and a spring in her step again. Her friends and her teammates have rallied around her and been there for her."
Whether it was with her father during her childhood or after his death, Aanderud has known what it's like to walk in the dark. Regardless, one friend, or a core group of them have been walking beside her – helping make her life that much brighter. --- By Eric Brown, Assistant Athletics Communications Director for Liberty University
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