The athletics department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., is known for its student athletes’ peak performance on the field and in the classroom; over the course of the 2017-2018 school year, Calvin claimed its fourth consecutive Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) Commissioner’s Cup, and 170 student athletes earned Academic All-MIAA honors.
However, each year during August, 34 Calvin student athletes reach a more literal peak, traveling to the mountainous Gainey Ranch in Montana for a weeklong retreat on Christian leadership. The group, consisting of nominees from each of Calvin’s 22 varsity teams and accompanied by seven staff members, engages in a range of outdoor activities, worship services, and lectures.
“The retreat is a mountaintop experience,” said senior associate athletic director Nancy Meyer, who describes it as “a unique and intense five to six days of reflection, training, making friends, and making connections.”
According to Meyer, students spend two days reflecting on faith and leadership. As a gateway to the next section, they then take a four-hour solo hike. After the solo, the focus of the week shifts to practical leadership skills, group exercises, and lectures from coaches. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for our student athletes to learn about themselves, their relationship with God, and how to lead teams,” said athletic director James Timmer. “As a coach, it's so nice to be able to have my players come back from Gainey and have this bigger picture about what faith-based leading is all about,” said volleyball coach and professor of kinesiology Amber Warners. “To have that foundation and have them be on board to want to do things with the team has been a huge blessing and help.” Past Gainey alumni also reflected on the experience ecstatically. “I absolutely loved the morning devotions,” said senior physical education student Madeline De Groot. “We started every day by ourselves spread around the camp,” added De Groot. “We could ponder on our thoughts and then look around and be overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation.” “Not only did I learn a lot spiritually at Gainey, but it gave me a critical group of people to turn to if I was struggling,” said recent graduate Abby Van Harn. “Our small groups met multiple times a day, and that intentional time created a tight-knit group that we could turn to throughout the year.”
The Gainey Leadership Retreat is made possible through the generous cooperation and support of the Gainey Family, Calvin's student life division, alumni, and other donors.