Keeping the Faith
Fourth-year student-athlete Avery Johnston, winner of the NCCAA Joe & Q Harding Award, recounts how she's been carried by God's wisdom through an unexpected personal trial.
5 min. read
March 20, 2023

Avery Johnston’s Royals journey began when she was four years old and kicking around a soccer ball. “I come from an athletic family, so I think I was always going to play some type of sport,” she says. “The kids on my street played soccer, and I looked up to them, so I started playing in a house league.”

Since joining the Redeemer Royals women’s soccer team in her first year, Johnston discovered that, along with the obvious physical benefits, being a student-athlete has noticeably contributed to her spiritual life.

“We pray before every game and do team devotionals, and my coaches check up on me regarding my faith and how I’m doing,” she explains. “They want us to grow as people as opposed to just growing in talent on the field.”

We pray before every game and do team devotionals, and my coaches check up on me regarding my faith and how I’m doing.

Johnston assumed that soccer would remain a constant in her life. However, that reality became tenuous in March 2021.

“I was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis when I was 10. It was under control and didn’t affect my playing abilities at all until last March. My knee started to swell, and I was on a surgery waitlist because none of my medications were working. I received joint injections in my knee, but I was still in a lot of pain.”

Due to her condition, Johnston entered her final year at Redeemer unsure if she’d be able to rejoin the team. This led to a painful wrestling with her faith.

“I felt pretty hopeless, and I don’t think I really trusted God. I knew that he could heal me and help me play again, but that wasn’t happening. I kind of just threw my hands up and accepted that I wouldn’t be able to do what I love in my final season at Redeemer.”

However, it soon became clear that God was working purposefully behind the scenes. Instead of having to give up soccer altogether, Johnston was moved from her previous position of mid-field to third back-up goalkeeper. Along with being more suitable to her limited running abilities, it was a saving grace for the team as both of their starting goalkeepers were concussed.

“I played for a week, and it went unexpectedly well,” she says. “It ended up being the most fun I’ve ever had playing soccer, and it was all because I had that injury to begin with. God worked things out way better than I could’ve imagined. The whole story taught me that, when the mountain in front of me won’t move, God’s purposes are way better than mine, and who am I to doubt what he’s doing in my life? I later got another joint injection in my knee and was able to play in my regular position for the remainder of the season.”

God’s purposes are way better than mine, and who am I to doubt what he’s doing in my life?

This past year, Johnston was the recipient of the 2022 National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Joe & Q Harding Award for Division I Women’s Soccer. The award is named after former NCCAA soccer coaches Joe and Carol “Q” Harding, who consistently demonstrated encouragement and integrity while leading their teams to multiple victories. According to the NCCAA website, Johnston was selected for her perseverance through adversity and devotion to fostering a team culture “where everyone, no matter skill, ability or talent, felt incredibly loved and included.” These efforts further extend to her off-campus activities with Athletes in Action (AJA), a not-for-profit Christian sports ministry whose mission is to develop the whole athlete through the integration of faith, life and sport. Johnston has written devotions for AIA and helped run many of their soccer camps across Ontario.

When asked about her thoughts on receiving the award, Johnston’s attitude of humility and gratitude was a true testament to her character.

“I’m extremely honoured and humbled to even have been considered,” she says. “I have no words for how my teammates, coaches and other members of the athletics staff have influenced my life and helped me through the toughest times. All the credit really goes to them.”

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