Two goalkeepers find faith through TWU soccer
The Trinity Western University Women’s Soccer team has experienced an incredible level of success over the past decade. This past November, they appeared in their fourth-straight CIS Championship final, a CIS record. They fell just short of winning their sixth national title, with UBC taking the final 3-0 for their sixth title, but there’s no doubt the Spartans have one of the best programs in Canada.
It was that reputation for success that brought Rachel Bedek and Ally Williamson to TWU. Neither of the two goalkeepers were Christians when they joined the Spartans and faith was the furthest thing from their minds.
While they both saw success on the field, however, their lives changed significantly off the field. The two spoke at the third “My Story” evening held by TWU, which gives student-athletes an opportunity to share their testimonies.
Rachel first came to Trinity Western University as a member of the Canadian women’s soccer team for the FISU games in 2011. TWU head coach Graham Roxburgh had been named head coach for Canada and their training camp took place on the Langley campus.
The location and the six TWU players on the roster stood out for Rachel. She remembered thinking, “There’s something different about this place, this team,” but she didn’t know what it was.
The seed was planted for her to eventually come to TWU, something that seemed completely out of the question at the time. She harbored a lot of resentment towards the church stemming from her Catholic background. She saw church as a set of rules that people followed without knowing why.
Rachel spent four years at Carleton chasing after athletic and academic success, but she knew something was missing. She took a minor in Philosophy hoping to find answers to the questions she had about life, questions raised by what she saw as unshakeable truths: “I knew I had a purpose and I knew there was a truth that I wasn’t privy to.”
Instead of answers, however, she just found uncertainty and developed a cynical attitude.
Dissatisfied with the lack of success playing for Carleton, Rachel wanted to use her last year of eligibility to play for a quality team with a chance to win. TWU was coming off a CIS Championship and their starting goaltender, Kristen Funk, had graduated, giving Rachel the opportunity she was looking for.
Rachel, with her previous connection to Roxburgh, headed off to TWU for her MBA. She backstopped the Spartans to their fifth CIS Championship, finding the success on the field that she had desired.
But she found something far more important that year.
While she had her walls up, ready to push back, she was disarmed by the culture of TWU and the openness and honesty of her teammates. “The consistent actions of people around me really challenged me to address my own ignorance and prejudice against the church and Christianity,” she said.
The way those around her lived drove her to find out why they were different and she began to delve into apologetics and accept invitations to church and other events. At an Athletes in Action retreat, she hit a tipping point and gave her life to Christ.
“I was really receptive to the speaker that was there,” she says, “And the people were so engaging. Ultimately there’s a point in the last night where everyone cries and I cried.”
“I still had so many questions about Christianity that weren’t answered yet,” she says, “but I found this truth. I found the meaning of life. No big deal!”
“All my other answers will come with time.”
Graham Roxburgh tried to recruit Ally, a Langley native, straight out of high school, but she had no interest in going to TWU. Instead, she went to UBC and proved why she was highly sought after talent, getting named Canada West rookie of the year.
Despite continued individual success—she posted five shutouts in her third year and was named second team All-Canadian—she lost the love of the game and left the Thunderbirds.
“After my third season at UBC, I absolutely hated soccer altogether,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to play anymore so I left.”
She came back to Langley, her hometown, for the summer, with the intention of returning to UBC just to finish her degree. She decided she would play soccer again, but just for fun, joining a local women’s team. She was surprised to find herself loving soccer again.
The team happened to be almost entirely composed of TWU players and there was something about their camaraderie and closeness that caught her off-guard.
“I had no idea why it was enjoyable,” she says, “but it was.”
She transferred to TWU, but had no interest in the Christian aspect of the school. “I came here for soccer and for soccer only,” she says, but seeing people’s passion for their faith made her curious.
She had grown up in the Catholic church, but felt forced to go and, when given the choice of whether to keep going, had followed the lead of her two older brothers and stopped attending. She had hated going to church, so to see people who were excited to go and to live out their faith surprised her.
Thanks to similar backgrounds, Ally developed a strong friendship with Rachel, now graduated and TWU’s assistant goaltending coach. Meanwhile, her teammates began bringing Ally out to events and church that changed her perspective on faith.
“At UBC, when you’re an athlete you stick to all your athletes and the athletes at UBC are out partying 4 or 5 nights a week,” Ally said. “It’s very different from coming here. The first time I went to a My Story event, I only went because one of the girls on our team was sharing and I was sitting there, like, ‘This is weird. This is what we do on a Friday night?’”
“It was very different from what I was used to,” she said. “It’s focussed on God and everyone there is focussing their attention on him. It’s easy to get caught up in that.”
She didn’t even know how much she had been impacted by her teammates and the environment at TWU until she got away from it all.
“I didn’t feel like faith was affecting my life at all until I went away for Christmas break,” she remembers. “For some reason, I didn’t want to be with my old friends and do the same things and I had no idea why. There was one time where I got invited out to a big party and I found myself looking down and saying, ‘Why am I looking at a Bible and not going to the party? This is definitely affecting my life!’”
“The next month I was baptized.”
The key for both Rachel and Ally were the people in their lives who lived out their faith. “Just living in the fruits of the Spirit,” Rachel says, “and walking with God actually has an impact.”
Ally wants to show that impact on the field as well. “For me, it changed the way that I played,” she says. “When I got on the field, I was very ill-tempered. I feel like now, I am trying a lot more to control that and play in a way that represents God and represents how I would like other people to see God through what I’m doing.”
Meanwhile, Rachel is joining the team at Athletes In Action, knowing exactly how sports can break down barriers.