This story appears in FCA Magazine’s March/April 2017 issue. Subscribe today!
With her NCAA Division II javelin national championship trophy in hand, Western Washington’s Bethany Drake spent the 2014 summer preparing for the next season—how she could get even better, throw even farther and, eventually, repeat as national champ.
Then the injury came.
Out of nowhere, shooting pains began wrapping their way from her spine around her side, limiting Drake’s strength and curtailing her activity.
“Can I keep going through this?” she thought. “Will it ever go away?”
It took until January 2015 for Drake to finally get her answer. Stress reaction in her spine. Three months of complete rest. Nothing more strenuous than walking to and from campus.
The champ’s junior season was over before it started, and the platform of self-confidence she’d placed herself on toppled over.
But really, it might have been the best thing that’s ever happened to her.
“Coming off a national championship, I felt so much pressure to prove myself and was constantly fighting this notion that that success was my identity,” said Drake, a studio art graduate now pursuing a master of arts in teaching. “The idea of not competing—or even training—led me to a lot of questioning. But, praise God, I know my worth and fulfillment lie in Him and not in my athletic performance.”
Although sitting on the sidelines was incredibly tough, Drake took the opportunity to serve and support her teammates, fully pouring into her fellow Vikings and putting them before herself. Most importantly, it forced Drake to lean on Christ in a new way; no longer could she try to earn her worth.
“It forced me out of my selfishness, allowed me to selflessly serve my teammates and see the true servant’s heart of Christ,” Drake said. “At my lowest point, I felt so much joy that spring, joy that I never would’ve anticipated.”
• • •
Bethany Drake grew up in Sandy, Oregon, a small Portland suburb nestled at the base of Mount Hood. Her parents supported her passion for both art and athletics, and God was a part of her life.
Drake said she always believed in Christ, but for a long time it was just a “Sunday thing.” She knew what a “good Christian” looked like, and she fooled herself into believing a certain set of actions earned you that title.
“I became very wrapped up in doing and saying all the right things,” she said. “Attending church: check. Attending youth group: check. Sharing Bible verses: check. Inviting people to church: check. Not swearing: check.”
"But, praise God, I know my worth and fulfillment lie in Him and not in my athletic performance.” -Bethany Drake (second from right)
In eighth grade, a friend invited Drake to her youth group. She agreed to go, mainly for the social opportunity and free cookies. But, upon arrival, Drake could tell something was different.
The kids’ relationships with each other were deep and meaningful, and their relationships with God seemed like they truly mattered. Whatever they had, Drake wanted it. So she showed up more and more—and God did too.
“There was so much love and laughter, so many tears and meaningful discussions—but no judgment,” she said. “My life began to take purpose, and I began to learn that Christ was not just a figurehead but someone to have a relationship with.”
Knowing Him, Drake said, is about a relationship, which takes time. For the first time she had discovered a foundation she could stand upon—one that remained the same, even in the midst of change.
Although Drake had grown up playing softball, by high school she found her passion for the game waning. Her best friend, Makena Shroder, a Sandy High classmate and javelin star, had urged Drake for two years to try out track and field, and finally she obliged.
“I actually have a yearbook note from the end of freshman year joking about giving it a shot, and now here I am,” Drake said. “I knew I wouldn’t be a distance runner, and javelin seemed like the closest crossover between softball and track and field.”
Plus, she said, of throwing a spear: “Does it get much better than that?”
In addition to javelin, Drake participated in discus, long jump, and the 100- and 300-meter hurdles. At meets she seemed to spend almost as much time racing back and forth between events and changing spikes as she did actually competing.
Of them all, though, Drake took to the javelin most quickly.
“Even though I was participating in other events, I put the most time, effort and passion into javelin because it came the most naturally to me,” she said. “I had a flight line right from the start, which is something that’s hard to teach. If a thrower has a good flight line, they’ve got good potential.”
Above all else, track and field was fun, something that had been missing for her from softball. In addition, Drake found a close-knit group of friends whose passion for Christ mirrored her own, so much so that in 2010 they decided to start a Christian club together.
• • •
That same year, longtime FCA staff members Ron and Val Frank packed up their Chicago home and moved to—you guessed it—Sandy, Oregon. Soon enough, Drake, Schroder, sophomore Kevin Frank (Ron and Val’s son) and three other Sandy High students created Sandy High’s first FCA Huddle.
“That was a total God thing, really,” Drake said. “It’s incredible to see how God worked despite any selfishness we had. His plans were greater than ours.”
Drake and Schroder began a track-and-field version of a midfield prayer, inviting teams to come together and pray at the center of the infield before each meet. It started out small, but by the end of the first season a huge circle of athletes gathered in prayer before every meet. Five years later, the event still takes place. Drake was moved to tears recently when a Pioneers coach sent her a picture of a field covered by a giant circle of athletes.
Drake’s ability to impact the world around her for Christ comes as no surprise to Val Frank.
“Bethany has a quiet confidence in who she is,” Val said. “She loves Jesus, her family and others. She doesn’t have anything to prove. She’s the real deal, and it’s been a sweet blessing for us to deepen our relationship with her during her final years at Sandy High, as well as her time at Western Washington.”
After placing fifth at state in javelin as a senior, Drake walked on to the Western Washington track and field team that fall. In 2013, as a freshman, she finished first at three different meets and earned academic honors.
Not bad for a walk-on. But Drake’s early success was merely a sign of things to come.
During her sophomore year, the accomplishments and accolades poured in. In addition to the aforementioned national championship, Drake set school and Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) records with a 51.66-meter throw, earned All-America honors and competed at the U.S. Track & Field Outdoor Championships.
After the stress reaction cost her the 2015 season, Drake picked up right where she left off, breaking her GNAC conference record three times and winning Conference Female Athlete of the Year. She placed second at the NCAA Division II Outdoor National Championships and earned a spot in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Most importantly though, Drake’s time away from competition allowed her faith, spiritual maturity, and heart for others to blossom.
“My injury was a reminder of what a gift I’ve been given,” she said. “I’ve been given this gift to steward it to the best of my ability, to know Him more, and to allow others to know Him. I won’t have it forever, but while I do I must give it all I have and know what its purpose is.”
Over the years, she’s also grown deeper in her involvement with FCA and feels fortunate to have served as FCA leader at Sandy High, Western Washington, and at multiple FCA Camps across Washington and Idaho.
“Bethany’s steadfastness and desire to be used by God allowed her to have a lasting impact on many of her teammates and peers,” Ron Frank said. “Even in the midst of injuries or personal challenges, she continued to pursue and hold onto Christ.”
The FCA Camp experience especially is something Drake holds dear and encourages everyone to take part in.
“FCA Camp is one of the most incredible things to be a part of,” she said. “To have middle school and high school athletes, college athletes, Huddle leaders and college coaches all coming together in this circular support system built off of a passion for Jesus and sports is absolutely incredible.”
Bethany Drake’s faith has been impacted by FCA’s Ron and Val Frank. Prior to attending and competing at Western Washington, Drake teamed with Kevin Frank (Ron and Val’s son), and other close friends to begin Sandy (OR) High’s first FCA Huddle in 2010.
As she enters her final season of college eligibility, Drake hopes to land a high-school teaching job that would allow her to teach art, coach track and field, and stay involved in FCA—if that’s what God has in store. If not, His plan will be better; she’s confident of that.
“Being a college athlete has changed me in ways I never expected,” Drake said. “It’s been an incredible rollercoaster. God’s opened doors I never imagined for myself, but there have also been lows that have challenged me greatly.”
Through it all, Drake said she’s learned that humility and confidence are not mutually exclusive. Humility doesn’t mean denouncing your talents, abilities or dedication, because that’s a disservice to the platform He’s given you.
“You’re worth more than your wins, records and accolades, and you’re worth more than your losses, sins and failures,” Drake said. “So take that freedom and take joy in what you do; that’s what we’re called to do.”
As a perfectionist, even the thought of that wrecks Drake at times, but she always comes back to the beautiful truth that Christ died for her—the flawed, sinful version of her—and she’s fully known and deeply loved by Him despite that sin.
“I am more than me,” she said. “My worth and identity rests in Christ, and no matter how often or how terribly I fail, it does not define me. I am free.”
Photos courtesy of WWU Athletics and Ron and Val Frank