For some, soccer is just a game. For former Fredonia resident Hannah (Swift) Turner, it is her life.
After completing successful playing careers at Fredonia High School and Houghton College, Turner went on to play for the Charlotte Lady Eagles, a pro-am team that is a part of the United Soccer Leagues' W-League.
At the end of the 2011 season, however, Turner called it a career.
Pictured at left is former Fredonia resident Hannah Turner with one of the young children she met while in Tanzania. At right is Turner, formerly Hannah Swift, during her days on the soccer pitch at Houghton College.
Part of Turner’s duties as the Charlotte Lady Eagles’ Women’s Ministry Coordinator is to teach team leadership skills to new and returning players.
At left, Hannah Turner instructs children on the game of soccer during her trip to Tanzania. At right, Turner goes one-on-one with a young Tanaznian.
"The decision (to stop playing) wasn't the hard part," Turner said. "I knew this is what I needed and wanted to do, but the transition process out of playing was tougher than I thought. It honestly took since 2011 until now to work itself out."
Out of the league for three seasons, Turner has nothing but fond memories of her time on the field.
"The chance to become a Charlotte Lady Eagle and compete at the W-League level was a dream come true," Turner noted. "Every moment has been a blessing and from the start, I have appreciated this experience more than anything. Every moment was so special and I was so grateful. Now that I step off the field a bit, and in hindsight, I do appreciate the experience even more because of everything I've learned and have seen my teammates learn and go through over the years. My time as a player was humbling, transformational and incredibly empowering."
Although her career on the field as a player was over, Turner's work with the team was just beginning as she now serves as the team's Women's Ministry Coordinator and as its Assistant General Manager.
"There are amazing people in our organization and local community that help teach and host various team ministry functions and I get the privilege of helping find these people and get them all on the same page in understanding our team goals and theme for each season," Turner said. "It's amazing this time of year to see God bring all these pieces together for the coming season."
As part of her ministry duties, Turner is responsible for scheduling Sports Ministry Training, Wednesday team dinners, pregame chapels for all home and away games, weekend team retreats and the leadership development program for returning players.
"My main focus is leading the group of veteran players that return to the team as key leaders," Turner said. "We teach them leadership skills and give them a hands-on experience of responsibilities to lead the team on and off the field.
"Getting to know their stories before arriving and then watching them come to life on the team as we walk through the season with them is amazing," she continued. "My heart and time invested in the summer runs hard after this aspect of my job. It's amazing what God does through taking the time to listen and encourage. I am not the only one focusing on relationships, but being the only woman on staff for a women's team sure increases the opportunities."
In terms of the other hat she wears - Assistant General Manager - Turner is responsible for helping with recruiting for the fall and winter and helping General Manager Jeremy Auyer with his duties.
"Helping Jeremy Auyer, the GM is an important job in the office, especially during the off-season." Turner noted. "I get the chance to run the open tryout early in December that I love - especially because the open tryout is how I made the team in the first place. Our staff travels to many college games in the fall to continue relationships with our current players while reaching out and recruiting new ones."
As rewarding as her career as a player was, Turner is just as thrilled to be doing the work she currently does for the Lady Eagles.
"The work I get to do is incredibly rewarding," she said. "It's an absolute joy and honor and much of the reward comes from seeing God impact the lives of our players for a season that then sends them out into the world strengthened, empowered and with purpose. It's rewarding to know that my soccer career at Fredonia, Houghton and then with the Eagles has equipped me in every way for the job and role I have now.
"I see myself doing sports ministry and using soccer as a platform for the rest of my life," Turner continued. "The impact I have watched it make all around the world and the influence it has had on my life is enough for me to invest the rest of my days in this."
And soccer has allowed Turner the chance to see parts of the world she may not have been able to otherwise. She's spent time in Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia and even played on the side of a mountain in Mbeya, Tanzania. But there was one trip that has stuck with Turner more than the others.
"The most surprising experience I've had since working for the Eagles was traveling to Kenya last year to help with a training conference with teachers, pastors and coaches," Turner noted. "The surprise came through seeing first-hand the absolutely amazing unifying power that soccer possesses."
Soccer, as Turner noted, is the World's game. It is the most popular sport on the planet and is played in every corner of the world. But in Kenya, she saw something in the game of soccer that she had not seen anywhere else.
"We read in the news about current and historical conflicts in Africa," Turner said. "For Kenyans, there is discord between tribes, religions, genders and races. The coaches we had the chance to work with and get to know, were working in communities that are plagued with tension and violence between tribes and the Muslim, Christian conflict. The very surprising and amazing thing I learned is how the simple game of soccer has the power to completely break down these walls of hostility and promote peace. This opens up the opportunity to build relationships with the most unlikely people.
"This power and authority leads to chances to share the life saving Gospel of Jesus Christ," Turner continued. "Hearts are changed and communities strengthened from the inside out. Roll a soccer ball out on a dusty African pitch if you want to see unity and an amazing platform that God is really beginning to use, especially in Kenya."
Through her years playing soccer and observing the sports world, Turner has seen how tough it is to mesh one's faith with the sport they love.
"I used to think, and this is what the world engrains in us, that what you do, and how good you are at things defines who you actually are," Turner said. "This performance-based view actually throws us off course from who we were made to be. Soccer is what you do, it's not who you are. This view is very hard to shake and especially for high-level athletes, where every moment of your training and career you are being weighed and compared.
"It's nearly impossible to not measure how you are doing based on how you perform out on the field," she continued. "It's tough, but I've learned over the years that soccer is the most incredible environment for faith to grow and transform."
Continuing to spread the messages of her faith is something Turner plans on doing for the foreseeable future, but after college she also began to impart her knowledge of the game on others.
"Since graduating college, I've spent several years coaching local club youth soccer," Turner said. "U-11 and U-14 girls. I love this age and enjoy the opportunity to get to know players and their families in the Charlotte community. I love girls' soccer, even with the Eagles because the experience, relationships and conversations ... The purpose of the team very quickly become completely social and little to do with soccer itself.
"I can't say it enough, and especially for girls, soccer is literally what brings together a team of people and from there, we have the chance to do life together in the most amazing environment," she continued. "Teams build community and community changes people. The role of a coach can have more of an impact sometimes than parents and teachers."
Through it all, Turner knows that she couldn't have achieved what she has on the field, or in life, had she not received the help she did.
"I would like to say a special thank you to all the wonderful people over the years who have loved and cared for me, believed in me and have pushed me boldly to become who I am today," Turner concluded. "You know who you are and please know how grateful I am for each of you. God has flat out used you to change my life. Thanks to the Fredonia community for following and supporting our girls' soccer team. It was an honor and blast representing the school and town through soccer in the years I was around. Go Hillbillies!"