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Meredith (Hollar BS 17) Smith set her sights on playing professional soccer since she could lace up her cleats. “It was all that mattered to me,” says Smith. She spent every spare moment developing her skills and attended every camp she could to improve her performance. When she reached high school, Smith stood out playing for the Fort Wayne Fever club team and earned a spot in the Olympic Development Program (ODP). ODP identifies and develops high-level players to compete at a national level — 17 out of the 18 women soccer players who won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics played in the program — and Smith secured a spot on the team twice during her high school career.
But during her junior year, an unexpected injury sent Smith into a tailspin. She vividly remembers the night Bruce Barlow (BA 78, MA 86), her pastor from Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church, arrived at her home just hours after she tore her ACL and meniscus during a club soccer game.
“You can choose to allow this situation to make you better or bitter,” Barlow told Smith.
She took her pastor’s advice and used her recovery time to pursue a different kind of goal. “I dug into Scripture and learned how to rely on God. When I would sit on the bus on the way to a game, unable to play, surrounded by everyone else’s excitement, He was all I had. No one understood what the loss meant to me except Him.”
Even though Smith grew up in a Christian home understanding the Gospel, it wasn’t until her injury that she fully found her purpose in Jesus. “Soccer was my idol,” confesses Smith. “All that mattered was being good at soccer and having what mattered most to me taken away changed my life.”
During Smith’s junior year, Michael Voss, Grace’s women’s soccer coach, approached her about playing soccer at Grace. When she heard his passion for developing his athletes’ faith, she knew God was leading her to enroll.
Smith had an all-star career at Grace, earning NAIA and NCCAA All-American awards, being named the NCCAA Game Plan 4 Life honoree and earning a spot in the top five all-time scorers at Grace. But what she boasts about most is the way her coach and teammates led her into a deeper relationship with Christ. “We were equipped and encouraged to disciple others and share our faith. I would have never learned to do that without Voss’ guidance and the team’s encouragement.”
Not only did Smith gain confidence in sharing her faith while at Grace, she also clarified a calling to teach. Smith planned on becoming a dental hygienist and working in her dad’s practice, but after taking an education course with Dr. Laurie Owen, dean of the School of Education, she was hooked and never looked back. “After sitting in that class, I knew it. This is me!” she remembers.
Smith added a science concentration to her major, and an ecology class proved to be her all-time favorite course at Grace. Her enthusiasm for the class and her education background made her the perfect candidate when the Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams was looking to hire an intern to overhaul its K-12 education program.
Smith interned for them during her final years at Grace, and after graduating, incorporated much of what she’d learned at the Lilly Center into her science curriculum for her first-grade students at Madison Elementary School (Warsaw, Indiana). In fact, Smith’s students were the first class to take a field trip to the Lilly Center at its new home in the Dr. Dane A. Miller Science Complex.
Smith also found an opportunity to support and encourage other young soccer players as an assistant coach for the Warsaw Community High School’s girls soccer team this year. “Now I can inspire and love on these girls who have the same passion I did, and I can offer them a different perspective when they face injuries or disappointment.”
“I’m reminded daily that my mission field is in the classroom and on the field, loving my students with God’s love,” says Smith. “You don’t have to be a full-time missionary to have a mission field.” Sometimes you just need the right soccer field.
Tagged With: Athletics, Excellence, Faith, Feature Stories, Grace College, Lady Lancers, School of Education