Alumni Spotlight: Gymnast, nursing major exercises spiritual gifts developed at Liberty in Arkansas, Alaska
Jill (Wipperman) Franchino (‘13), who was raised in a military family that traveled around the United States but spent most of her formative years in California, wasn’t aware that Liberty University offered a gymnastics program when she enrolled in the School of Nursing as a freshman in 2008.
“It was my sophomore year that I found out there was a Club Sports team and I thought I’d give it a try, and it ended up being some of the most fun I had at Liberty,” said Franchino, who grew up around gymnastics with her twin sister and competed in the sport through her freshman year of high school. “With the nursing school being pretty intense, (gymnastics) was very low-stress, so that was really cool. The program was in the infant stages, but we did have a pretty good turnout that year and it was really fun getting to meet people that I wouldn’t have known from anywhere else in classes.”
She was excited to get back into competing in the sport after taking a break to focus on coaching for the last three years of high school, and wound up placing third on the floor exercise and sixth in the All Around at the 2013 NAIGC National Championships in Minneapolis.
“I hadn’t done gymnastics in about five years (as a sophomore), so I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do, (but) we had all levels there … so it was a really fun, diverse group,” Franchino said. “Everyone was there to have fun and you could compete at different levels on different events if you wanted to, which was really helpful for me. I was able to have some success and to place (at nationals) my senior year, which was really fun to see that work pay off over time.”
She said the spiritual atmosphere on Liberty’s campus and especially in her nursing degree field prepared her well for the challenges she has faced in the profession.
“One of the things I appreciated most about Liberty was getting an education from a Christian perspective, and my professors really encouraging us (spiritually),” Franchino said. “Unlike some of the other schools I was looking at, it wasn’t just nominally Christian; it was a big part of the student life, so that’s how I ended up going to Liberty and doing nursing. Then being able to take that into my workplace afterwards and approaching it not just as, ‘This is my job, this is a career,’ but as an avenue of ministry, that was probably one of the best parts. It not only prepared me academically and skill-wise to be a nurse, but also how to approach that from a believing perspective.”
After graduation, she landed her first nursing job at a Veterans Health Administration (VA) Hospital in Arkansas.
“I wanted to work with the military population, so I moved out there for a couple of years before moving back home to work a similar job as a med/surg nurse in Sacramento (Calif.) for a few years,” Franchino said.
She then returned to a summer camp in Alaska run through her church that she had been involved with during her college years. It was there that, through an introduction by a missionary who neither knew well, she met Justin Franchino, the lead pastor of Peninsula Grace Church in Soldotna, Alaska, who would eventually become her husband.
“It was a pretty random meeting there, but he connected the two of us and we got married two years ago,” Franchino said. “It’s definitely been a big adventure, a big change from California, but it has been sweet to see the Lord provide, and with the community up here it’s a beautiful place.”
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