Spiritual retreat aligns student-athletes with Liberty’s mission
Guided by Liberty University’s Club Sports Spiritual Development staff, student representatives of several athletic teams gained leadership skills and learned ways to implement them during a two-day spiritual discipleship retreat to Smith Mountain Lake last Tuesday and Wednesday.
Club Sports Spiritual Development Coordinator Heather Gollnick, who also serves as head coach of the men’s and women’s triathlon teams, said a primary theme of the retreat was taken from Matthew 20:28. In the verse, Jesus modeled servant leadership by telling His disciples He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
“We did a lot of leadership sessions, talking about how to serve their teammates from a spiritual perspective, as well as team-building activities and games that they could take back and do with their teams,” said Gollnick, who facilitated recreational fellowship through a group canoe trip and tackling a low-ropes course together. “We are blessed that spiritual development is one of Club Sports’ pillars and that (the administration was) willing to invest in these student-athletes and fund a retreat like this. They’re going to be starting the season with that passion for God.”
Rebekah Trittipoe, a career coach in Liberty’s Career Services office for the School of Heath Sciences and developer of professional development trainings for internal and external customers, led a series of trainings based on Micah 6:8, “What is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
“The principle behind it is No. 1, it’s not about them; it’s about others, about serving and living (for Him),” she said. “What does the Lord require of us? To do justly is about behavior; to love mercy is about relationships; and to walk humbly is about attitude.”
The first of three sessions she led was all about character, identifying 26 biblically based character skills that, especially as leaders, they should be striving to acquire daily.
“When you have great character, performance is a natural outgrowth of that,” Trittipoe said. “Once you foundationally understand who and what you are in Christ, then it should inform your every thought, action, and attitude.”
The second session focused on unity and the third was a spiritual walk through Ephesians.
“The main idea was about ‘dreaming small’ by being faithful in those everyday small things,” Trittipoe said. “Ask someone how they’re doing and mean it. Get to know someone and build those relationships. Be very intentional in doing the small things well.”
She said the student-athletes selected as spiritual leaders particularly appreciated the interactive format of the sessions.
“What I love to do is use activity to teach principle, so they didn’t just sit and listen to a talking head,” Trittipoe said. “The kids were so receptive to the teaching and enthusiastic; it really was a fantastic time together.”
On Tuesday evening after dark, the staff— which included Club Sports Assistant Athletic Director for Spiritual Development Reese Braband and Division III men’s hockey Head Coach Josh Graham — blindfolded the student-athletes and led them on a hike through the woods. When they reached the darkest area along the trail, the staff activated glow sticks which they held in their hands and spread another luminescent substance all around them before removing their blindfolds.
“That gave them a visual of the potential impact they can have on the lives around them,” Trittipoe said, noting that the illustration showed that the power to serve and to shine for Christ comes not from themselves, but by His Spirit. “They were all completely lit up and the ground around them was lit up in the darkness, so it was a great visual and it was so cool. It served as a mental hook that they can remember. They may feel small and insignificant, but when the Lord provides you a job to do, He’s the One responsible for doing it.”
The student-athletes on the retreat included Natasha Leininger (archery), Olivia Litzau (beach volleyball), Robin Payton (crew), Justin Rosak and Spencer Ellingson (disc golf), Vivian Renfroe (equestrian), Marissa Harter and Olivia Ford (figure skating), Alecia Bernau and Emma Marnik (synchronized skating), Audrie Pack (gymnastics), Brett Gammer, Zak Albers, Kris Bladen, and Jackson Vercellono (DI men’s hockey), Peyton Nash (DII men’s hockey), Jordan Chamberlain and Michael Williams (DIII men’s hockey), Joshua Duke (men’s ultimate), Mason Ellenberger (men’s volleyball), Trevor Melton (racquetball), Katherine Gray (rifle), Jack Pizor and Ally Fernandez (triathlon), and Rebekah Kemper (women’s wrestling).
“We were very fortunate that we had a time to be poured into so when our seasons start we will be able to pour into our teammates,” Fernandez said. “They gave us many tools that can help each of our teams grow closer to God, which is way more important than any (athletic) training you can do. We learned how to lead our teams in the best way possible to glorify God in all that we do.”
Ellingson commended the staff for instilling excellent spiritual discipleship techniques into the leaders and preparing them for a fruitful fall semester as they serve as role models on their respective teams and as ambassadors wherever they go.
“They all did a fantastic job coordinating (activities) and all of them were so encouraging,” he said. “(Trittipoe), with her experience working with athletes and being in education, shared a lot of things on leadership and in the Christian walk that I will definitely take with me moving forward.”
He said Liberty disc golf Head Coach Steve Bowman is also a tremendous spiritual mentor and resource.
“He is awesome with making sure that I’m in a position where I feel comfortable and he is always giving me the tools to lead,” Ellingson said. “He also likes to push me outside of my comfort zone, leading team devotions and giving me opportunities to grow (spiritually).”
He said the retreat further served as a springboard to dive into the semester and season with confidence, to be an example for his teammates and a witness to players from opposing teams.
“I definitely walked away with it with a lot of vision for the year and relationships formed in a short time there, with people there praying for me who want to see me succeed,” Ellingson said. “That gives me a level of excitement for the year. I definitely want to win, but having that spiritual emphasis first is important for me and this spiritual retreat was huge for kind of lighting that fire.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Kylee Ligle/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant