Athletes Give New Meaning to ‘Lives of Significance’

Post a Comment » Written on April 7th, 2006     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

OAK RIDGE, TN (April 7, 2006) – Having to return to classes after Spring Break wasn’t what kept North Park University track teams from wanting to leave Oak Ridge, Tennessee. They were having too much fun helping build a house with Habitat for Humanity to benefit a single mother and her two children.

“We couldn’t get them off the roof,” says men’s Head Coach Elliott Nott, with a note of incredulity about the last day. “We had to go, but they wanted to finish the roof.”

Sixteen members of the men’s and women’s teams traveled to Oak Ridge to train and to help with the Habitat project. The team would rise early to get in practice and then work on the house from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. They slept on cots in two churches. (To see additional photos of the work experience, please visit Habitat Project.)

Track members help roof house When the team arrived, little of the house existed except for the foundation. The building was nearly complete by the time the teams left, leaving the Habitat staff grateful. “What we got done in six days, they said would have taken them six weeks,” Nott says. The teams also helped lay flooring at the local Habitat office.

This was the first mission trip a track team has made, says women’s Head Coach Tracy Murnane. “It was hard, but our athletes really took it well.” That might be considered an understatement given the team members’ comments about the trip.

“Even though I was tired, I never noticed it,” says Matthew Cappetta. “I was so focused with the job at hand that I did not pay attention to being tired. Maybe because I was having such a great time, I didn’t care how I felt.”

“It must have been one of the best times in my life,” says Matthew Schilling. He added that seeing the new homeowner’s reaction made the trip worthwhile. “She was so overcome with joy that she was only able to stand in what will soon be her living room and cry.”

Barbra, the new homeowner, worked alongside the students several days. She “sanctified” the ground, calling it holy because of the student’s work and her belief the home will always carry their spirit. “She told me that she felt like the most blessed person in the world seeing all of us working together and having fun doing it,” says Amy Peters.

The trip was important in forming a team identity that includes being servants as well as athletes. “We’re trying to build lives of significance and service,” Nott explains. “When we’re recruiting, they’ll know what we’re about.”

The trip also benefited the athletes in many ways, noted Benj Ecker, a North Park Theological Seminary student who serves as the team’s chaplain. “I was constantly impressed at these athletes’ willingness to work hard and work together all day long in order to see this project through,” Ecker says. “Many athletic teams will go somewhere to train over Spring Break, but I don’t know of any others that would see this break as an opportunity for a mission trip. This is a unique bunch of student athletes, and the benefits they gained through this experience go far beyond the physical.”

“One thing that I took away from the trip was the idea of the Kingdom of God and my role to play in it,” says Aaron Clark. “We talked a lot about the Kingdom throughout the week in our devotions, and it encouraged us to build a house for a family in need.”

Although they were constructing a physical structure, Casandra Quiram says the experience served as “a reminder that the church is not made up of a building, but the people. Also that the work needs to get done, but one needs to take time.”

The trip also built a greater sense of unity among the athletes, which sometimes is more difficult because many of the competitions are individual. “It was just amazing to me how much our team bonded by working together for a good cause,” says Allison Weller. “We returned to Chicago much more a team than we were when we left.”

The athletes became students as they heard from one of the local selectmen (similar to a city council member), who told them about the struggles the community went through when the high school became the first in the South to desegregate following the Brown vs. Board Supreme Court decision that ruled segregation unconstitutional. The students were moved by the experience, says Nott.

Although the students learned about painful past events, they also were overwhelmed by the well-gained reputation of Southern hospitality, which enabled them to rest – and be well fed. “Every meal was taken care of by a church from the area and we truly ate like kings for a week,” Clark says, joking that “It has been hard coming back and having to make my own meals.”

After training every morning and then building a house all day, the trip wasn’t over for the athletes. They competed at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tennessee. No records were set, but Murnane says, “I’m really happy with the way our athletes performed. We had a lot of strong performances. That’s just a good sign of things to come.”

Nott says there are other good signs for the future. “They’re already are talking about going back next year.”

The trip cost the students $150. Much of the money for the trip came from a December fundraising event in which 21 members of the track and cross country teams took turns on treadmills for 24 hours. To read more of that event, please see Runners Push the Limits to Help Others.

Other members of the men’s track team who participated in the trip were Kevin Adams, Luke Johnson, Don Fancher, Weston Gleffe, Jon Wikholm, and James Williams.

Members of the women’s team also included Ashley Edwards, Jessica Gilligan, Juliann Plimpton, Liz Poczaski, and Casandra Quiram.

Also participating was Rob Lowe, a seminary student and assistant coach.

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