It took one campus visit for Leah-Joy Gaensler to decide that Redeemer was the place for her.
“I’d visited other universities and was overwhelmed by the size of their campuses,” she says. “Redeemer had a feeling of community, and I just felt confident being there. I’d also never been to a Christian school before, so it was something I wanted to experience.”
That sense of confidence instilled itself quickly. In addition to being a high performer in the classroom, Gaensler has been a dedicated member of the Redeemer Royals cross-country running team since her second year. Along the way, she’s earned many achievements and accolades, including competing in the 2021 and 2022 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Women’s Cross-Country National Championships and being named a National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Scholar-Athlete.
However, Gaensler says she is most grateful for the holistic benefits of running itself and being part of a faith-based athletics community, including better sleep and consistent spiritual development.
I love encouraging people, and I really feel that’s something God calls us to do.
“We do devotionals as a team and even went to church during one of our meets in Thunder Bay. It’s also been a way to witness to other schools because we always cheer for runners outside of Redeemer. I love encouraging people, and I really feel that’s something God calls us to do. Later in the season, I often reflect on how thankful I am that God gave me a healthy body that’s able to run.”
The insights that come through competition have also supported and motivated Gaensler in other aspects of her life.
“Another aspect of cross country is perseverance. Sometimes, when I’m feeling down, I think of what I’m going through as a race and that I’m almost at the finish line.”
Last November, Gaensler received the NCCAA Dr. Ray Bullock Award for Division I Women’s Cross-Country. The award itself is named after Dr. Ray Bullock, a former cross-country coach and NCCAA Hall of Fame member who was devoted to cross country both as a sport and ministry. Recipients are chosen based on “Christ-like cross country participation in NCCAA member institutions.” According to the official press release, Gaensler was chosen for being an “encourager on and off the course” who “leads by example as she desires to point others to Jesus.” This is evident through her athletic conduct and presence on various other ministries such as her church’s Jr. Youth Program and her past involvement in Redeemer’s Rooted Worship team, Joy Bible Camp and Awana clubs. Andrew Ponsen, Redeemer’s head cross-country coach, describes Gaensler as “an exceptional student-athlete with a strong community involvement and strong faith. She excels in the classroom and on the course and is a true leader.”
Sometimes, when I’m feeling down, I think of what I’m going through as a race and that I’m almost at the finish line.
Gaensler views the award as an encouraging milestone in her journey as a distinctly Christian athlete.
“Dr. Ray Bullock showed Christ to those he coached, and I’m honoured that NCCAA thinks I reflect his characteristics. It makes me want to keep shining my light for Jesus in every area possible.”