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Life as a WNBA Rookie

I have been playing the game of basketball since I was basically in diapers. For some reason even back then I thought that putting an orange ball in a basket was quite entertaining. Fast forward about twenty-two years and this still rings true. I am currently living out my dreams as a professional basketball player for the Dallas Wings, and I would now like to take this time to reflect on everything that contributed to my life as a WNBA rookie.

Do you remember that feeling in the last year of Elementary school when you felt on top of the world? You were the oldest of all the other students in the school, and everything felt under your control. You had a schedule you were familiar with, and you had the same teacher that you loved. You had your same classmates that you hung out with during lunch everyday. And then it all changed: middle school. — At least, this is how I imagined it would be, since I went to an extremely small school and middle school wasn’t all that different for me. Anyway, for the rest of you who went to larger schools, everything probably felt out of your control. You were suddenly thrown into a new building, had to go to different classrooms every hour, and you were forced to make new friends. Well, I can honestly say that my transition into the WNBA from college ball has gone something like this. A new city, new coaches, and new teammates. A new position, a new offense, and a new (and MUCH faster) pace! All of this newness hit me like a bus, and most of my time spent in training camp was figuring out how to deal with the aftermath.

Being a rookie, especially in this league, can mean a multitude of things. Whether that be rookie duties (like delivering laundry and uniforms to the other players on game day), roller coaster playing time, or information overloads during practices, trust me I have experienced all of this! I think the best piece of advice I can give to anyone who is entering the WNBA is to understand that there will be a huge, steep learning curve! This learning curve will ultimately be your pathway to success (or not), and it is up to you to fully embrace whatever role you are given. My role this season has been to develop my game behind the scenes, implement what I have learned into games, provide a spark of energy whenever our starters needed a break, and to cheer on my teammates. When I was given a second chance with Dallas, I told myself that I was going to take full advantage of every single day and to trust that God’s plan is best!

Adaptation

If I could summarize everything that I learned this summer in the WNBA by using one word, it would have to be adaptation. In the beginning of this summer I didn’t fit the typical mold of what a WNBA post player looks like. I’m undersized (even though I am 6’3″…). I was a back-to-the-basket type player. I was not considered to be an outside shooter. And perhaps most evidently because I was once on the outside looking in, desperately wanting a second chance. All these things and more could have easily counted me out of the WNBA. But guess what? I’m still here. I’m getting better everyday and I love to learn. Currently my top two priorities are implementing a face-up game and improving my three-point shooting. Most of my days in Dallas and while traveling all over the country were spent doing extra shooting workouts either before or after practices and during my off days. Practices are even more intensified compared to college, with each one requiring a full day’s worth of total focus physically, mentally, and emotionally within a few hours. Our home games consisted of dressing up for walk-in game-day outfit photoshoots, a far cry from the usual sweats that I arrived in for my college games. Traveling, however, as a WNBA player is not as glamorous as it may seem since we fly commercial. Every week we traveled to a different city across the country, and more often than not we had three or more games per week to play. Our team usually had practices right after we landed and got to our hotel, but the rest of the night we were on our own. I really grew to like this because that meant I had time to visit and get dinners with family and friends. On game days either before or after you probably could have found me in a random hotel fitness center on a treadmill or lifting weights to keep in shape. As a professional athlete, it is extremely important to have self-discipline in order to have longevity in this league. Self-discipline for getting in extra workouts to improve your game and maintain excellent physical shape, self-discipline for studying your opponents by utilizing the coaches and film, and self-discipline even for staying healthy and resting appropriately to recharge your body. There is a lot that goes into the days of a professional basketball player – and most days are quite exhausting – but I know that at the end of the day I am doing what I love while sharing something that is most important to me in my life as a Christian: my faith in Jesus Christ.

Faith in the WNBA

Even though this summer has been full of basketball, I have to say that one of my favorite things to come out of my first season in the WNBA is not directly basketball-related. The creation of my platform for sharing my faith has not only grown my own relationship with God, but I have been able to help inspire others to strengthen their own walks with Him. Social media has been my main channel to spread the gospel, and I am so thankful that I can use this tool in order to reach as many people as possible. Right now I am going through a Bible reading challenge, and it is honestly so refreshing to hear from different people about their testimonies, get feedback through my social media pages and website, and have conversations after games with fans throughout the summer. I just wanted to take this time to thank everyone who has followed my blog thus far, and I am even more excited to continue to hear from all of you as I head overseas to play! Speaking of playing overseas, I will soon be implementing a segment on She’s Got Faith social media pages called “Happenings in Hungary” that will have regular updates on my life overseas. I cannot wait to see what God has in store for me in Budapest, Hungary!

Finding My Voice

All of my life I have been pretty quiet about sharing my faith in Jesus. I grew up in the countryside minding my own business and not wanting to bother anyone else about who or what I believed in. Looking back now, that was a mistake. Sure, finding my voice to tell others about God may sound scary, but I never knew how impactful my message could be to other people who desperately need a light to guide them amidst their own darkness. I wish I would have embraced this role earlier in my life, but I didn’t until about 1 year ago.

Athletes in Action

If you have never heard about Athletes in Action, I am so glad that I can tell you about it now. This organization is a Christian ministry for college student athletes across the nation. You can find most gatherings held in a University sports building on a weekly basis, where athletes from every sport come together to talk about Jesus and what it means to implement their faith into their respective sports. Up until the summer before my senior year in college, I had attended these meetings only once in a great while. Toward the end of my junior year, Coach Bluder approached me about going on a trip with AIA that upcoming summer. They were planning on partnering with the USA Team to compete in the FISU World Championships in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It didn’t take me too long to decide to go, because I was familiar with Athletes in Action and my Iowa teammate, Hannah Stewart, was also going to be on the team. Originally I thought that this trip would be great for Hannah and I to get even more used to playing with each other on the court before our senior seasons started since we knew our offense would be geared toward having two post players on the floor. Boy, if I only knew then how life changing this trip would actually end up becoming!

Training Camp – Xenia, Ohio

The day that Hannah and I left for training camp was on July 14th, 2018. The night before our Iowa team had an inter-squad summer scrimmage, which was super fun because it was our last workout and first time displaying our championship team to our loyal fans. Our flight had a slight delay, so we were one of the last ones to arrive. This AIA trip was compiled of more than just our women’s basketball team – we also had a men’s basketball team, and men’s volleyball team, and women’s volleyball team. We all stayed and trained in Xenia, Ohio for about 5 days where the national headquarters of Athletes in Action was housed. Each day was full of activities, with most days starting with breakfast/morning gospel as a whole group and then prayer time with our teams. We also had several other sessions throughout the days where we would gather and listen to the testimonies of some of the coaches and staff members. We worked really hard in practices as we only had a few days to prepare for games, which meant most of our time was spent going over our offense sets and scrimmaging. Some of us would also get in other workouts such as lifting and extra shooting, so by the time each day ended we were all pretty tired! It was worth it though, because not only did I push myself physically, but I was able to grow in my faith and learn more about what it meant to use my basketball platform to Glorify God and help lead others to Him along the way. I would definitely say that my biggest takeaway from training camp would be to play for an Audience of One. At the end of the day, the only person who I should be playing for is God and He loves me no matter what! Toward the end of training camp, I got to share my testimony to my team since we had been learning how to write our own stories throughout camp. Let me tell you, I was a mess! I was a bit nervous to be honest – ask me to score 30 points in a basketball game, no problem. But ask me to talk about my personal life to a group of strangers? That is a WHOLE different ball game! Thankfully I had gotten to know my teammates and coaches over the past few days before this and they were all super supportive! Once I started sharing about how God impacted my life, I immediately started crying, and then of course cried some more because I also talked about Hannah and how she was such a wonderful spiritual leader to me and for our college team. You guys I am an emotional person as I have said many times before, and I honestly just have to laugh at myself, I have come to accept the fact that I am not very good at bottling up all those feelings!

Our first practice during Training Camp!

Samaritan’s Feet

One of our first days in Brazil was spent with an organization called Samaritan’s Feet. This organization devotes its time, resources, and energy into providing shoes for underprivileged youth. We traveled through some of the poorest parts of Sao Paulo in order to get to our destination, and while on the bus looking out the windows I can honestly say I have never seen such poverty in my life. There were hills with houses that were shaped like stacked boxes, covering up every single inch of ground possible. Families seemed to be literally living on top of each other, and most of the houses were a brownish-red color. There were also blue, green, and yellow houses mixed in, making for a unique landscape. This went on for miles and miles as we weaved in and around the bumpy, dangerous roads. Abandoned shops lined the streets as little children ran around without any parents in sight. When we arrived at the center, it was easier to tell that these buildings were more taken care of than its surroundings. They were all around this main pathway and each building was home to different activities that children could come to during the daytime. This particular program takes in young children everyday from 7am to 7pm where they get to do fun activities, play sports, get meals, and take clean showers. It was amazing to witness this place and how much of a real difference that the workers and volunteers were making in these kids’ lives. After a quick orientation, we were all split up into different groups where we took turns getting to wash the feet of the children (just as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples all those years ago) and then gave them a new pair of shoes. Seeing their eyes light up was something that I’ll never forget, and I am so glad I wrote all this down in a travel journal. I wrote about each child that my translator and I interacted with, and asked them about their families and ultimate dreams. Some wanted to become doctors, others wanted to be police officers or professional athletes. I was also able to tell each of them about Jesus, and how he came to save us from our sins all those years ago. I would wrap up each conversation by encouraging them to seek God in everything that they do, because He is always with them. It was a day that I can cherish forever – God has a special place in His heart for those children, and I am so glad that I was able to do the Lord’s work and directly feel and see the impact that we made!

Rio and The Power of Prayer

Our team played four games in five days and so we were exhausted by the time everything was over. We first played Mexico, and then the next day we played against Uruguay. On our off day, my team and I flew over to Rio De Janeiro and spent a whole day exploring this incredibly beautiful city. We went up a big mountain on a cable train to visit Christ the Redeemer – pictures do not do this justice, it was so big and detailed, we could even see the holes in his hands from the nails! We were extremely high up and it felt like we were in the clouds because a fog surrounded the entire statue viewing area. Despite the fog, the views were still breathtaking as we looked down onto the entirety of Rio. Most of our time was spent taking a ton of pictures of each other imitating the statue with our arms out and hands spread wide. As powerful and incredible it was to see this world-wide known statue of Jesus, I would have to say that something during this trip was even more powerful.

After every game my team and I got to meet in a big circle with the other team we just finished playing and share the gospel with them. Each message was shaped around a bible verse, and we gave each of them a bracelet with that bible verse on it so they could remember and carry it back into their own lives! Most of the girls did not speak English, so we would try and find one who could and use them as a translator. Even though it was hard to speak with them at times, God guided our conversations in such a powerful way – there were multiple times during prayers together when someone would get emotional because our message hit home. I was asked to lead one of the messages and talked with Uruguay about the Bible verse of 2 Timothy 1:7 –> “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” It was one of the first times where I found more confidence in my own voice to publicly talk about my faith. One of the girls was so moved by the message that she broke down and started crying because she had lost her father a couple of months prior to this. We were able to comfort her and tell her that he is in a better place watching over her always. The power of praying with other people is an incredible experience, and I hope that God can continue to use me in this way!

Sharing My Story and Going for the Gold

I would have to say that our gold medal game day was one of the craziest days I have ever experienced. The day started with myself sharing my testimony in front of our entire group who traveled together. By the time I did this, I had already shared with my team so I did have some confidence in sharing with a much bigger audience. It felt more and more natural to talk about my own faith each time that I stepped outside of my comfort zone. I have our team chaplain, Karen, to thank the most for urging me to tell my story. I will be forever grateful to her and all that she did along with our head coach, Coach Albright, and other coaches and staff members (Coach Ely, Coach Yow, Bonnie, just to name a couple) to help me find my voice for Jesus on this trip!!

The rest of the day was pretty chaotic, but thankfully God had everything under control. The actual gold medal game time was miscommunicated to us, and so we arrived about 4 hours too early! We were all stranded because the buses back to the hotel took over an hour one way so it would have taken too long to go back and find food. Believe it or not, we all ended up taking different Ubers to a local McDonalds and had burgers and shakes for our pregame meal! I remember thinking that this would make for a funny story one day, but only if we won the game. Thankfully we did, but not without its own troubles. During halftime the power went out, and so we had originally expected the game would be delayed. But to our dismay, the ref summoned us to come on the court like nothing was out of the ordinary and we played the entire third quarter in darkness. The only light coming in was from a couple of windows that were shining down from way up above! Ironically our team had the biggest run of the entire game during this power outage and we ended up beating Brazil with the lights finally coming back on in the fourth by about twenty points! Looking back now, it is such a cool story, especially knowing how God really was watching over us despite facing many obstacles. We stayed and watched our men’s team capture the gold medal as well, and then we all headed back to our hotel.

My experience with Athletes in Action while playing in Brazil is something that I will never forget. I met some amazing people who love the Lord, and together we learned and grew in our faith. There are so many other things that I could have written about, but I think that the most important part that I want to emphasize is that I believe that my specific time on this trip propelled me into my current love of sharing my faith through this blog! Thank you so much again to Athletes in Action for giving me a chance to find my voice.

Faith, Family, and a Little Bit of Confetti

A Wrap on College Athletics

Being a college athlete taught me many things. It taught me teamwork, time management, and perseverance. It also taught me what hard work really looked like. Time and time again I spent hours in the gym instead of hanging out with friends, going to the movies, or whatever else college kids do these days. My summers were spent getting up at 6am for weights and practices, and coming back for late night scrimmages. And this was only the absolute bare minimum required. Most of us spent even more time alone or with some teammates getting up extra shots/workouts. During the season I had three hour practices with film sessions beforehand and weight lifting afterward. There were late nights from flying across the country, with most of our time spent when we were not on the basketball court studying for an exam or catching up on missed classes because of games.

So yes, the athlete life is not all fun and games. It is pushing yourself to the limits and then sprinting right past those limits to find yourself accomplishing things you never thought possible. I found myself becoming a leader, winning championships, and inspiring thousands of people across the country. Being a college athlete might have been one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I can also consider it one of the best things that ever happened to me. I felt some of my happiest moments in all of my life while wearing a college athletics jersey. This has partly to do with winning some awesome games and championships, but it mostly has to do with my teammates, coaches, and support system. I was blessed enough to have been surrounded by a team who loved, cared, and played for each other and put the needs of the team above themselves. This was the most evident during my senior year when we became Big Ten Champions. Let me take you back in time to reminisce my absolute favorite memory of being a Hawkeye! 

Preparation – Championship Mentality

Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indianapolis, Indiana. March 9-11th, 2019. This arena has been home to the Big Ten Tournament Championship during all four years I was at Iowa. Up until my senior year, this place also gave me some of my worst memories. Each year we came up short whether it was in the first or second rounds. It was especially gut-wrenching whenever this tournament ended because that meant no games after this was guaranteed. Knowing this, I think my fellow seniors and I were extremely motivated to go all the way for our last shot. Additionally, we got to adorn new warmup shirts that said “Family” across the front and I felt that this described our chemistry as a team perfectly. I remember practicing for this tournament only days before we left; all of my team was really excited and we worked hard and had a lot of energy. One of the days after practice, Coach Bluder actually had a ladder brought onto the court and we all got to practice going up that ladder to cut down the net so we knew what it felt like. Our team was really into envisioning success, and that day we put it into action. In fact, I still have a piece of that net as a reminder of this motivating day. Picturing success before it happens really does work – it is important and everyone should implement this into their own practices and training as this creates a championship mentality.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 10: Megan Gustafson #10 of the Iowa Hawkeyes warming up before the Big 10 Women’s Championship Game against the Maryland Terrapins at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 10, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Game #1 – Redemption against the Hoosiers

Our first game was against Indiana. As you may have read in one of my previous blog posts, Indiana was the one team that prevented us from becoming regular season conference champions. Let’s just say that none of us needed even an ounce of new motivation to beat them and honestly I did not have any doubt that we were going to win. That confidence carried us all the way through that game, even when they made some good runs toward the end of the game. I think winning that game against this particular team gave us the spark we needed in order to keep ourselves going. This was also the game that the media started to notice our “victory formation.” This started to occur earlier in the season (e.g. when we beat Maryland at home for the first time in my career), but basically whenever we as a team felt we were about to win a game, we would all walk down the court together with our arms around each other if there happened to be a foul drawn and we had to shoot a free throw at the other end of the court. Every time we did this it gave me chills, and it felt very empowering to do that in this tournament. The formation truly demonstrated the fact that we were more than just five individuals on the court – we were working as one unit, as one team. We were family.

Game #2 – Battling the Scarlet Knights

This was a tough game for many reasons. For one, it was back- to-back with our Indiana game so we had less than 24 hours to prepare. Some of you probably do not understand how the game preparation works when we have games with no practices in between, so let me explain real quick. We don’t just go back to the hotel and chill. Once we got back, our coaches would specify a time in a conference room or ballroom that they reserved and we would all sit down and receive our scout. There would also be a projector so we could have our videographer set up film. After this we usually had a walkthrough of their plays in the same room with tape on the ground to represent the court. These sessions required a lot of focus and attention because we did not have time on the court to go through everything like we normally would. Rutgers was especially an opponent we had to focus on – they were young, but had a lot of talent and were really good at full court pressing. Thankfully earlier this season we had beaten them, so we knew how to handle their pressure. During the first half of this game I actually missed my first seven shots – for those of you who don’t know much about my basketball story, let’s just say that I was a 70% shooter from the floor and I wasn’t supposed to miss that much. This was extremely frustrating, especially since I wanted to do whatever I needed to help my team to victory. I remember during one specific huddle after missing a shot I looked at my teammates and I saw something that I won’t forget: complete confidence. They had total trust in me even when I was doubting myself at the time. They kept reminding me of my abilities and this is honestly what helped me get back on track. Having teammates that constantly uplift and support you is vital in having success, and I hope that all of you can experience this! We got some really good stops as a team toward the end of the game, and we held on to a single digit victory. Winning this game felt like getting over a hump because we had never gotten to this round let alone past it. On to the championship!

Championship Sunday – Taking on the Terrapins

When I say that I waited for this day to come for years, I am not exaggerating. I remember watching the Big Ten Championship games each year on TV wishing over and over again that my team would be playing. I used to daydream what it would feel like to have that final buzzer go off and confetti falling all around me while walking to my classes. I visualized hoisting up that trophy and would get emotional while driving around campus. Finally, this day had come. I couldn’t wait to play my heart out and give everything I had on that court, even if it meant playing with extreme pain moments before warmups started.

Most of you do not know what I went through behind the scenes just before heading onto the court that day. Leading up to this, I was battling what is called a “soft corn” in between my fourth and fifth toes on my right foot throughout the second half of the season. Please do yourself a favor and try not to google this – it is nasty! I’ll spare you the details but basically it is like a blister that over time digs a deep hole into your skin and comes with a constant, sharp pain. Unfortunately, these tend to get worse when playing a lot because of sweat and rubbing. During the second game against Rutgers this actually “exploded” and got dramatically worse. I didn’t feel this until after the game since I had adrenaline from the game, but let me tell you, it felt like I was getting stabbed over and over again in one little spot! My athletic trainer and I had a routine to cover it up with a gel insert to lessen the pain, but once I showed her it the morning of this game, she called in the big gun: our team doctor. She sent him pictures and they talked about what they should do for the game. After some discussion, I was told that they could give me a numbing injection. Yes, you heard me correctly. I had a shot put in my foot just minutes before the game! It had to be inserted into my top foot area right above my toes so that the numbing medicine had room to work into my sore area. I wasn’t too afraid of this being painful but my team felt scared for me, especially Kathleen Doyle. She volunteered to hold my hand and distract me from the pain when the injection happened. Having her there with me actually made it worse because of her reaction but it was also extremely funny! If any of you know Kathleen, you can probably understand why this was the case. While the doctor was preparing the injection, she distracted me with jokes and just being her usual enthusiastic self. However, she immediately got nervous and started freaking out when the injection went in my foot, which of course made me even more nervous! We both started screaming when my skin bubbled up momentarily right after the injection came out and honestly while writing this I am laughing so much – it was something that I’ll never forget! Eventually Kathleen and I settled down, and she left to go on court. I waited for my foot to go numb and after a few minutes I felt the pain go away. It was like magic! I kind of felt like part of my foot fell asleep, but feeling that was better than horrible pain. My trainer gave me some extra strength Tylenol and Ibuprofen, and so let’s just say by the time I joined my team on court for warmups I was feeling pretty darn good!

Playing three games in three days is really hard on one’s body. I remember each night I got a massage from our team masseuse- I honestly don’t think I could have made it without her! My legs and back were very sore and tired by the time Sunday rolled around, but I wasn’t going to let this stop me. I knew that all of my teammates were in the same boat. We were exhausted. But we were also in this together. They were my sisters, and it was time to go to the final war with them against a really good Maryland team.

We started off the game on a big run supplied by an energy boost and found ourselves up 15 points halfway through the first quarter. We ended the quarter up 10 points, but Maryland rallied together and outscored us by four points in the second. I remember just before halftime both ourselves and Maryland traded basket after basket – most of these coming in transition. Additionally during this time we got into some foul trouble, with a couple of our starters having to sit out. Thankfully our team had a “next woman up” mentality and I remember how well our bench players did filling in alongside myself and the remaining starters.

After regrouping at halftime, we found ourselves in a dog fight for the first part of the third quarter. During the first three minutes is when Maryland made their biggest run as they quickly tied the game 53-53 with seven minutes to go. Eventually we were able to pull away and went into the fourth quarter up nine points. I distinctly remember our timeout before the fourth quarter – we had the momentum and all the confidence in the world. I looked around at the faces of each of my teammates and I saw the excitement emanating from everyone. Honestly it was hard to keep my own emotions in check during most of this final quarter.

Maryland would not go on to have any more runs and with the help of Tania Davis’ clutch plays, Hannah Stewart’s big rebounds, Kathleen Doyle’s hustle and heart, Makenzie Meyer’s sharp shooting, and everyone else’s amazing contributions, the University of Iowa found itself winning its first Big Ten Tournament Championship title in 19 years. After getting a defensive rebound, the ball was kicked out to Kathleen and she excitedly dribbled the ball around half court as the final buzzer went off. Finally, there it was. After four years of hard work and dedication to this program and to my team, it had all paid off. I was immediately overcome with emotion. I couldn’t even run over to greet my teammates because I was sobbing so hard – I tried walking (more like stumbling) toward them, but thankfully they all rushed to me and literally kept me from falling to the ground as we jumped and embraced each other. Hugs. Smiles. More tears. The first confetti cannon going off in the background. Cameras everywhere. TV interviews. Embracing my fellow senior point guard as we both cried some more. Finding my coaches amidst the crowd. The championship hats, T-shirts, and team pictures. All of these activities commenced during my greatest day spent as an Iowa Hawkeye. What followed next was the trophy presentation, and I can clearly picture seeing both my parents in the crowd as happy as could be. Coach said a few words on the microphone and we all were on the makeshift stage behind her eagerly awaiting what was about to happen. 

Hoisting up that championship trophy while confetti of all colors rained down upon us was all that I imagined and more. Actually much more because it was really heavy and I didn’t realize that it was until I had it completely above my head! I remember saying out loud “wow, this is really heavy!” and right next to me Lexi said, “put it down before you hurt yourself!” We had a quick laugh about that before we collectively lowered it to the ground. More pictures, cutting down the net, and interviews followed, and eventually we were able to all go into the locker room and celebrate some more.

What I really loved about several of our amazing wins throughout the season is that all of us players and coaches would gather in a big circle to pray and give thanks to God. Even though we didn’t capture that regular season title, God knew that would fuel us to win this tournament. We captured the hearts of thousands across the state of Iowa and even the country with our team-first mentality and for that I couldn’t have asked for more. During those times of prayer, I could feel God’s presence and it was a wonderful reminder that He had written out our magical season before it had even started.

Looking back now, it is clear to me that God’s plan for our lives is so much bigger and better than what any of us can imagine and I hope you as readers can truly embrace this wonderful promise!

Go Hawks, and Go Jesus!

God’s Timing

God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” 1 John 3:20

You know that feeling when you feel as though you’re living in a dream and you don’t want anyone to wake you up? I actually have only felt that feeling twice in my life. The first time was when my college team and I won the Big Ten Championship. And the second time? Well, that is currently ongoing, and has been since 7:42pm on June 12th.

June 12th, 2019

This day started out like almost any other while in Iowa City. I had spent the past couple of weeks here training for basketball – I was still heartbroken over the fact that I was now looking in from the outside of the WNBA. Basketball is something that I knew I loved before getting cut, but honestly it took losing this to really understand how much I love it. It was around 5:30pm on this day when I had a tattoo appointment scheduled – I know, exciting right? This was to be my first tattoo, and it was of my favorite bible verse (Philippians 4:13) with a cross down my spine. After a rather painful but happy couple of hours I got back to my apartment at 7pm, still completely oblivious to what was about to occur. At precisely 7:42pm I looked down at my ringing phone while heading out of my bedroom to go put some laundry in the washer. My agent’s name popped up, and I instantly felt butterflies in my stomach. Earlier that day I had talked to her on the phone about other interview stuff, so I wasn’t expecting her to call. It was also later at night so I had a feeling that she had some news for me.

“Are You Ready to Head Back to Dallas?”

I answered as quickly as possible. We talked for a few seconds about how I was doing, and I briefly mentioned my new tattoo before she asked the most exciting and wonderful question ever: “Are you ready to head back to Dallas?” I paused for a second, making sure I heard her correctly.

“Wait… What?” my heartbeat sped up as I replied back.

“Dallas, they want you, you are heading back to the WNBA!” I couldn’t believe it. Seriously. I asked if she was serious, and she did confirm that she was indeed telling me the truth. All I remember next was saying YES OF COURSE!! Over the next couple of minutes I think I repeated “thank you!” and “okay!” over and over again as we talked about heading back as soon as possible. After we hung up, I immediately dropped my laundry on the floor, screamed extremely loud, and ran down the stairs to tell my roommate what had just happened.

The Phone Calls, The Packing, and The Flight

I spent the rest of the night on the phone, calling my parents, sister, Iowa coaches, and close friends to tell them the good news. I also talked with the president of the Dallas Wings, along with the Director of Operations person to book my flight back. My flight was scheduled that very next morning at 6:40am. Talk about a quick turnaround! I packed up my bags, went to bed (honestly I did not sleep very well as you can imagine), and headed to the airport at 5:00am- thanks Coach J for giving me a ride so early in the morning!

My flight was pretty uneventful in terms of my surroundings. No delays, and the news that I was being claimed by Dallas had yet to hit the papers. But my mind and my heart was anything but normal. I was so excited, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the WNBA! This “calm before the storm” gave me time to really reflect on what this all meant.

Reflection

As I look back on the past few days, I can honestly say that words fail to describe how blessed and thankful I am to have this second chance. God truly does have perfect timing. The verse at the beginning of this blog says “God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything”, and this couldn’t be more true. As much as it hurt to be cut, God knew that it was supposed to happen. As hard as it was to be away from the game I loved, God was greater than what what was in my own heart. He showed me my specific pathway that was beautifully and perfectly planned out. During the time away from my dream, I was able to spend some quality time with my family. I was also able to work and train on parts of my game that I hadn’t really emphasized enough of in the past. This in turn gave me more confidence in my abilities, and I have carried this confidence right into my first few days back in the WNBA. But most importantly, I put all of my energy into becoming the best version of myself that I could possibly be by starting this blog about my faith in Jesus Christ. I have been able to impact people in a new way that I probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been cut. I have strengthened my relationship with God, and this has in turn given me a clearer perspective on what is most important in life.

Speaking of clarity, I do have to say that my tattoo now has a whole new meaning to me than what I originally planned – God literally gave an incredible sign of His plan for me that I can remember for the rest of my life – talk about goosebumps!

At the end of the day, I know that my basketball career is nothing compared to my identify in the Lord. I wouldn’t have been able to say this when it happened, but now I can say without hesitation that I am so glad I was cut from the WNBA. Why? Because God is greater than my heart, and he knows everything!

Confidence in Failing

Failure. It’s one word that just about everyone tries to avoid at all costs. If you were to google the definition of failure, the first thing that pops up is “a lack of success”. Sure, by its technical definition, failing at something is the opposite of succeeding. But in reality? I believe that failure is truly needed in order to succeed. At one point (or even several points) in each of our lives, we will fail. We will get knocked down, lose a battle, or suffer in one way or another. Several of you as readers have asked me to talk about confidence, and how to gain or keep it at the highest level. To answer this to the best of my ability, let me first ask you my own question:

Are you willing to embrace failure?

Because if you are, I promise that you are headed in the right direction toward confidence. Not just confidence when you are performing well, but confidence even during the darkest of storms. I believe that attaining this type of authentic, resilient confidence comes down to three key ideas.

Failure Makes you Better

The first key to confidence is having a healthy mindset. Failure at first glance makes someone feel as though they are getting further away from a desired goal. But truthfully? That failure is making them better at their craft. My most recent experience confirming this was during my senior year of college basketball. My team and I were only three wins away from becoming Big Ten Regular Season Champions. All we had to do was defeat Indiana, Nebraska, and Northwestern. We had already beaten Nebraska earlier in the season and the other two teams were ranked below us. On paper it was the perfect set up for a magical ending to the regular season. However, reality showed us a whole different journey. We lost on the road to Indiana by two points. Two. Points. It was heartbreaking to say the least, especially because we failed during such a crucial time to a team we knew we should have beaten. We watched as our Big Ten Championship dreams slipped through our fingers. Maryland, who we beat previously, was now two wins ahead of us and it would have taken a miracle for them to lose their final games. As easy as it would have been to give up as a team and just try and finish out the season, we did not give up. We used this failure to get better. We went back to the drawing board. Back to film, to scouting reports, and to practice and used our failure as fuel to our fire. We won out the rest of the regular season, and ended up finishing second place overall. Thankfully, we still had the Big Ten Tournament left, and we rode our confidence all the way to a Big Ten Tournament Championship Title (we even got to beat both Indiana and Maryland during this – talk about full circle!). You see, our goal was reached not by the absence of failure, but because of it. Failure makes you realize what you were doing wrong so you can address it and make things right. Failure makes you better and this is something I have come to fully embrace since being cut from the WNBA. Trust me, I have already seen results. Keep radiating that confidence readers, don’t let failures take the driver seat to your desired destination!

Align Your Confidence with Your Passion

Confidence, I believe, is like a flower. As long as you nurture it, it will grow into something beautiful. But every plant needs roots, and what is at the root of confidence, you ask? Happiness. Doing what you love is the very foundation of being happy, and is considered a recipe for sustained confidence. Think about this – if you love doing something (e.g. a career, a hobby, etc.) then you will most likely find joy while spending time into doing that very something. Speaking of time, let’s go back to our flower scenario. As long as a seed to a flower receives water, it will grow. That water is actually representative of time spent improving upon a skill. The more time we spend on reaching a goal, the better we become and ultimately the more confident we become. Real confidence has never been built in a day – rather, it is built up after years of nurturing it with time and hard work. The only way we are able to put in time and hard work is if we are motivated – and what better way to be motivated than to be inspired by doing what we love?

during the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences spring commencement Saturday, May 11, 2019 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

If you are currently in a place where you cannot seem to find your own passion or purpose, do not worry because the works you are doing right now are a part of God’s wonderful plan for you! – “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10

Audience of One – Ao1

Finally, if you forget absolutely everything else I have written, please remember what I am about to tell you. The most important key to establishing true confidence is this: having an audience of one. An audience of one means simply that – your audience should always be and only be Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. During each of our lifetimes, the world will be watching what we do in life – some more than others – but no matter who you are, people will judge you, attack you, and try and bring your confidence down. Whether it may be strangers, the media, friends, or even family, it is critical that you cancel out the external negative noise. Now this doesn’t mean to not listen to or love others, because some people in your life are trying to uplift and help you. But what I am emphasizing is that God is the only one who will unconditionally love you the most no matter how many times you fail. He will be there to pick you up, to wipe your tears from your face, and to show you how much you mean to Him. How incredible is it to know that the creator of the heavens and earth cares about you that much?

My performance as a basketball player has never depended on how good or bad I do. I know with 100% certainty that God loves me when I score 0 points or when I score 50 points. He loves me when I win or lose. Off the court I know that no matter how many times I mess up in my life, He will be there to guide me in the right direction. At the end of the day, the only person in my arena – in my audience – is God. To me, that is all the confidence I will ever need!

“He must become Greater, and I must become less.” – John 3:30

Uncertainty and the Color Pink

Whenever the month of May rolls around, I don’t think of how wonderful the weather seems to be; not too hot, not too cold, but just right. I don’t think of how school has just gotten out for many kids, and that summer has finally arrived. I don’t even think about May being the perfect time for growth and new beginnings. When I think of May, I think about pink bleeding hearts nestled along the side of an old house with its peeling white paint revealing just how much it has been lived in. Why, might you ask? I guess it could be about April showers bringing May flowers. But truth be told, those simple pink flowers have much more of a significant meaning to me.

Pink has been my favorite color for pretty much my whole life. I mean, what’s not to love? It portrays passion, kindness, happiness, and to me, a sense of calmness. I try to wear a little bit of it everyday so that I can hold on to its presence. You can probably see where I am going with this by now – pink represents something far greater than a color for me. It represents a person. A very important person in my life who shaped me into who I am today. She inspired me, cared for me, laughed with me, and most importantly, loved me beyond measure. She is someone who I think about during good days and bad. My Grandma Mary was one of the best things to ever happen to me. She is also one of my biggest regrets. That statement is a bit confusing, but let me give you some perspective first.

Background

My Grandma Mary was born in 1924 and lived most of her life in Northern Wisconsin. She lived a simple but hard-working life and married my Grandpa Willy – who I unfortunately never got the chance to meet since he passed away before I was born (speaking of Grandpa Willy, I’ve been told that some of my athletic ability was passed down from him!). They had six children, one of them being my dad. When my dad was just 11 years old, Grandpa Willy passed away from a brain tumor. As you and I both can imagine, it must have been devastating. Furthermore, my Grandma was suddenly left alone to raise their children and provide for them. Not only did she do just that, but she did it with hard work, grace, kindness, and humility. She emulated these personal values as the local school’s librarian and as a grandmother in her later life where I was blessed enough to witness this firsthand. I was fascinated by how she could go through so much hardship in life and yet still be a radiant light who showed love to all who she met. I was also intruiged by the color pink. Pink was her absolute favorite color, she wore it all the time. She, along with my sister and I, would help her plant those pink bleeding hearts along with other pink flowers alongside her house every year.

My Grandma Mary passed away on November 7th, 2010 after being diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease a few years prior to this. As a 14 year old girl, I was just beginning to find my love of basketball. I was just beginning to realize what I wanted to do with my life. I was just beginning to realize my world was about to continue without my baking and gardening mentor, my arts and crafts teacher, my best friend, my superhero, and my role model.

My regret has never been about whether I had a an off game, a tough loss, or missing out on some opportunity. My regret is that she never got to see me grow into the person and woman I am today. I wish she could have watched me play my heart out at Iowa. I wish she could see my love for this game. I wish she could have been the first person I talked to after my WNBA dreams were cut short. But honestly, I would give up basketball in a heartbeat if it meant I could see her again. Off the court, I have strived to emulate her kindness, her compassion, and her humility. I wish she could see how my love for the Lord truly came from my love for her. If any of you as readers can relate to losing a loved one, I would like to point you in the direction of Romans 8:18 –> “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” I really find this verse comforting when going through difficult times because what we go through here on Earth will never compare to the eternal joy that we will have once all of us are reunited with our Father in Heaven!

Bunny Girl

As tough as this has been to write about, I don’t want the remembrance of my Grandmother to be sad because she is worthy of the happiest of memories. One of those memories has to be whenever she called me her bunny girl. She started calling me that when I was really little because apparently I was a very happy-go-lucky child who enjoyed bouncing around with lots of energy! The name stuck, and even into her latest stages of Alzheimers when everything else was fading, she called me her bunny girl. I also encourage any of you who have lost someone to try and immerse yourself in good memories of them because that loved one would want you to be the happiest version of yourself!

Looking Ahead

It is been quite the journey since my Grandmother’s passing. Even though I wish she was still around, I know that she is in a much better place looking down and watching over me every single day. She has been with me through every accomplishment, every failure, every championship, every trial, and everything else in between. Even in my current situation of uncertainty, I can continue to wear the color pink and think of her old white house surrounded with bleeding heart flowers and know that everything is going to be okay.

Pointing up to my Grandmother after we won the second round of the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament

This blog post is dedicated to Mary Louise Gustafson, my Grandmother. Miss you everyday.

Love,

Your Bunny Girl

My Story

Port Wing, Wisconsin. Population: 164. Unincorporated. If you were to drive up into the northernmost places in Wisconsin, you may run into this tiny town. But don’t blink because you might miss it. Tucked away under the protection of the biggest fresh water lake in the world, I would have to consider my hometown a hidden gem along the south shore of Lake Superior. Growing up here I spent most of my time ridding my bike with my sister and dad during the summers to either the outdoor basketball court by the town hall or at the local high school gym. When I wasn’t running around with a basketball in my hands, you could have probably caught me swimming in the waves at the Quarry Beach where my mom recalls bringing us several times a day. I wouldn’t trade coming from a small town for anything. I have learned that work ethic is a vital piece to success because nothing was ever given to me; I had to earn everything. Opportunities were tough to come by, but it was my family who helped open those doors. My parents used to drive me over three and a half hours one-way just to get to my AAU basketball program practices, along with driving me around the country to attend tournaments so I could get exposed to college coaches. There wasn’t enough girls for an eighth grade girls basketball team, so I joined the boys team. I am so thankful for my hometown background and family. Both have made me the player and more importantly the person I am today. Most importantly, however, is my faith in the Lord – being a Christian has been my identity and foundation since as long as I can remember, and no matter where I end up during my lifetime I know that He is always with me. Speaking of ending up somewhere, I was miraculously found by the University of Iowa Women’s basketball coaching staff who offered me full scholarship and I accepted at the end of my Junior year. Fast forward through my senior year and I headed straight from my high school graduation to a whole new part of the Midwest in order to start my college career.

Quarry Beach, Lake Superior Wisconsin

Reflection

Whenever people would tell me that “time really flies by” I never really believed them. Until now. Four years later, and I can officially call myself a college graduate! It honestly feels like yesterday I was just a freshman in the dorms figuring out my way around campus. I have had so many amazing memories during my time here at Iowa; a foreign tour to Italy with my team, meeting my roommate/best friend, trying on an Iowa jersey for the first time, walking into my first lecture hall that had more people in it than my hometown, late night study sessions, visiting the Amana colonies, attending Iowa football games, yearly tropical Thanksgiving tournaments, decorating my apartment for Christmas, first NCAA tournament invite, summer workouts, an internship, a trip to Brazil and winning a Gold Medal while representing Athletes in Action/Team USA, chartering across the country while playing in one of the best conferences in women’s college basketball, a B1G Tournament Championship, Elite 8 appearance, getting drafted into the WNBA, and walking across the stage to receive my diploma. As I look back on my experience, I can’t help but be thankful for what has happened, grateful for my present situation, and hopeful for what the future holds. I am excited that I finally got around to sharing a little bit of my story from my perspective — and I hope that whoever is reading this will continue to follow along as I reflect on past experiences and how they have shaped me into the person I am today.

Trials and Tribulations

As I currently sit at my father’s writing desk back in my little hometown and away from the public eye (and let’s be honest, very far away from any kind of civilization at all), I can say that it is exciting and very easy for me to write about all the blessings and good things that have happened, but I know that it is even more important that I share some of the not-so-good parts in my life too. If any of you have heard about me, you have probably heard – or rather scrolled through social media – about my very recent experience with the WNBA. Upon getting drafted as the 17th overall pick to the Dallas Wings in early April, I spent the first three weeks of May in training camp working as hard as I possibly could to try and earn a spot on the opening night roster. Even though being in the WNBA has been a dream of mine since I was little, I can truly say that it was one of the hardest experiences that I have ever had to go through. Not knowing what will happen the next day, competing in a different and new position than what I was used to in college, and trying to keep my family and friends in the loop with how I thought things were going were just some of the things that I was trying to balance. I know that this not only took a toll on myself physically, mentally, and emotionally, but I also know that my family shared in those last two aspects 100%. Unfortunately, I was one of the last two players cut from the team less than 2 days before the opening game tip-off. To say that I am devastated is a big understatement, but I can also confirm that this has lit a new fire in me like NEVER before. I learned and improved so much in training camp, and I look forward to using this as motivation. As the sting of this new obstacle starts to dull, I can lean on the fact that God has everything perfectly planned out (Jeremiah 29:11) and I know that He will use this trial to make me into not only a better basketball player, but into a better person than I was before!

For those of you who have expressed your support, it means the world to me! I will write more about this experience in the near future, but for now I will just leave you all with this:

Don’t miss me too much WNBA, I’ll. be. back. This is just the beginning.