Club Sports spiritual leaders advance mission through adventure retreat
The third annual Club Sports spiritual leadership retreat took 39 Liberty University student-athletes and four staff members to the Peak’s Retreat & Adventure Center in Thaxton, Va., on Tuesday and Wednesday for a refreshing time of spiritual fellowship and social interaction as well as fun physical activities in a scenic setting in the foothills of the Peaks of Otter.
“It was amazing,” said Club Sports Spiritual Development Coordinator Heather Gollnick, who also serves as head coach of the men’s and women’s triathlon team. “The first year we held it at Hydaway Lake and last year was at Smith Mountain Lake, so every year we’re trying to rotate to a different area. It was beautiful weather and the place was gorgeous. It was nice because you feel like you’re far away, but it doesn’t take several hours to get there.”
Club Sports Assistant Athletic Director Reese Braband said the purpose of the retreat is for the staff to invest in the spiritual leaders, who in turn will help strengthen their teammates.
“We want to create that bond to start the year, so when we meet monthly, relationships will have already been built,” he said. “A cool part of the retreat is the peer relationships that are formed, like Paul had with Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy as mentor, peer, and mentee. The athletes have us as their mentors, they have the other spiritual leaders as their peers, and then they’ll go back to their teams to mentor them. It’s about us pouring into and loving on them and setting an example for them to pour into their teams throughout the year.”
Gollnick’s primary job was to plan the activities which included get-to-know-you games as well as ziplining, rock climbing, canoe races in the lake, and volleyball.
“There were a lot of games and a lot of interaction, which was fun,” she said. “For the high-ropes course, we broke into groups of 10 and they had seven different stations with some challenging events which was good for team building. It’s fun to see members of different Club Sports teams hanging out and meshing with each other, talking about their sport and the differences of their sport. They had a blast. Some of them were like, ‘This should be a three- or four-day retreat.’ That’s good. They didn’t want to leave.”
Braband said the staff scheduled more free time into the 32 hours the group spent together than on past retreats, and the student leaders made the most of it.
“There was like a two-hour volleyball game that just kind of broke out on their own, so just seeing them take initiative to want to hang out with one another was cool to see that community built,” he said. “They’re making some special friendships here that will last all year and they can continue to encourage one another and build each other up to then go back to their teams.”
The group held a bonfire on Tuesday night with worship led by figure skating team members Emma Richards and Olivia Walker.
“It was really fun getting to know the athletes,” Gollnick said. “That’s what makes the retreat so great. When you have two days together and you do a lot of activities, you see which kids are outgoing, which kids are shy, which kids are competitive, and their different personality traits.”
The staff, which also included Spiritual Development Coordinator Josh Graham, also head coach of the Division III men’s hockey team, as well as Career Services Coach Rebekah Trittipoe, a former FCA women’s chaplain for Liberty’s Athletics Department, got to know one another better as well.
“It’s been great just to see the growth of our leadership team. It’s exciting for us,” Gollnick said. “We all have very different personalities (but) all of our strengths come together and we get along great and it’s a very strong team.”
They want the spiritual leaders to come to them with any issues they are dealing with on their respective teams.
“We’re there to meet with all of them, whether they’re having an issue with camaraderie or various things,” Gollnick said. “A lot of the athletes are comfortable calling me and telling me what’s going on. I’m an encourager by nature, so being able to meet and pray with them allows me to use my spiritual gifts, on the relational side. The girls sometimes struggle with eating (disorders) or different things and we can meet and pray and talk through issues and help them navigate anything and then they can go back and be able to be better for their teams.”
The staff helped train the spiritual leaders on how to disciple their teammates, through devotions and prayer.
“Some teams are having Bible studies and it’s all planned and other leaders are not sure what to do and how to plan it, so we’ll meet and talk about how to plan a Bible study and offer (ideas for growing their groups),” Gollnick said. “Wherever an athlete or a leader is on their spiritual journey is fine. We just want to see them grow from wherever they are. You’re going to have some athletes that have been Christians for a lot longer or their walk is … Everyone’s walk looks a little different, but we want to encourage them all to really grow themselves so that they can help grow their team.”
Braband said another bonfire for the spiritual leaders is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 9, as the first of the monthly meetings.
“That will kind of replicate the retreat a little bit for all of those students who couldn’t make it,” he said, noting that more peer bonding activities are planned.
Then on Oct. 2, an hour-long all-Club Sports and alumni Worship Night will take place in the School of Music’s Center for Music and the Worship Arts Concert Hall.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video edited by Kylee Lilge/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant