“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
-1 Peter 4:10
Confetti rained down on the court at the CHI Health Center in Omaha as the Kentucky Wildcats volleyball team capped a spectacular year with a championship game win against the Texas Longhorns. The Kentucky players and coaches united on the court filled with joy, exhilaration, and cheers. After entering the tournament as the number two seed in the country, Kentucky proved their dominance all the way to the championship. But, beyond the trophy are a few Kentucky players that are using their platform to make an impact. Wildcat stars Gabby Curry, Alli Stumler, and Avery Skinner all have talked about just how important faith is in their lives and their efforts to inspire others and leave an impact.
Gabby Curry was a high school star who chose Kentucky as her home for her college years. Since leading the Wildcats to some of their best years ever, she has quickly become a fan favorite. Throughout these successes, faith has played a pivotal role in the life of Gabby. She says, “My faith is the foundation, stepping stone, and safety net of my volleyball career. When I was younger, I often found myself mentally and emotionally consumed with all things volleyball. If I played well, all was good in the world. If I was in a hitting slump in softball or in a passing slump in volleyball, it seemed as though nothing could go right. Oh how a relationship with Jesus changes things. Fully understanding that God created me in His image and that He loves so much that He sent His one and only son to die an innocent death so that I may be reconciled back to Him gives me a sense of meaning and feeling of fulfillment.”
Kentucky Outside Hitter Alli Stumler was unstoppable for the Wildcats on their road to the championship. A star throughout the tournament, Stumler impressed so many for both her skills on the court and the way she carried herself off of it. For Stumler, she says it is her faith that keeps her grounded and reliant on what is most important. “Faith influences my volleyball career a lot because it gives me consistent hope and peace. Volleyball is just a game and it’s very easy to get wrapped up and forget who your identity is in. That’s in Jesus. And He is constant and never changing. That gives me extreme hope that no matter how I perform I know where my true identity comes from!” As she now celebrates the national title, she remains so grateful to know her identity is not in the game of volleyball, but in Christ and who He says she is.
For Avery Skinner, the championship win meant more than anything else. A senior outside hitter from Katy, Texas, Skinner got the chance to play during the year with her sister, Madi on their road to success. For Avery, the chance to win a championship not only meant the world to her from an athletic standpoint, but also was a reminder of just how much of an impact she can have and how she can inspire others. She says, “The platform that sports provides is something so special and one I desire to use to share the gospel. The gifts and talents that some people might see as my own doings are really just gifts from Jesus that I want to use to bring glory to His name.” Now officially a national champion, that mindset continues to be pivotal for Skinner. “Throughout the whole tournament the one phrase on my mind was ‘thank you Jesus.’ While the opportunity to win a national championship is something I will forever cherish, the glory goes to the Lord.”
For these three athletes, the game they play is a great opportunity to make an impact. Gabby Curry has emphasized how she’s learned that volleyball can be an opportunity to lead others to Jesus. She says, “Volleyball is a vessel in which God has taught me true dependence on Him and His grace. Volleyball has made me appreciate His blessings upon my life more than anything else in life has. Volleyball has also given me a platform to speak about my faith and hopefully intrigue others about what a relationship with Jesus Christ is like.” Although things don’t always go right on the court, Stumler too reflects the mindset that God is in control regardless of performance. She says, “Faith provides hope that my salvation is not determined by my works or by my performance. God is proud of me regardless of volleyball accolades and that is so comforting to know.”
As the Kentucky players continue to celebrate their win, they are also reminded of every person that they are leaving an impact on. As numbers of young athletes around the country look up to them, Curry, Stumler, and Skinner are all comforted in knowing they have faith in a God that loves them regardless of their performance and that gives them the opportunity to go out and inspire others everytime they take the court.
*Photos in article provided by Kentucky Athletics/ Hannah Phillips and Grace Bradley