Between summer classes and working out with her Golden Gopher teammates, freshman Jackie Johnson did not have a lot of free time prior to starting her rookie season on Pam Borton's women's basketball team. But, that didn't stop the 6-foot-1 forward from using that small amount of extra time to play basketball and travel the world with Athletes in Action. GopherSports.com recently sat down with Johnson to learn more about her experience overseas.
Jackie met up with fellow Gopher Alex Ionescu in Prague.
We heard you had a busy summer playing basketball. Where did you go?
"I was able to play basketball in Prague through Athletes in Action."
For those of us that do not know, what is Athletes in Action?
"Athletes in Action is a Christian organization that builds spiritual movements through the platform of sport. You have the opportunity to go to a different country, share the Gospel and use your sport to show who God is. There are five principles they teach you on how to play for God and not for yourself or other people."
Who played on the team with you?
"I went with women from all over the United States. Most of them had already graduated and played basketball in college. I was the youngest person on our trip. Most of the players were anywhere from 21-25, and then there was me who was 18 at the time. There were players from Northern Kentucky, Aiken in South Carolina and Green Bay, so there we players from bigger schools and smaller schools."
Was it fun getting to know your teammates?
"Yes, but I connected with some of the players more than others. One of the women, Karen, is on staff at Colorado State. She was the oldest player on the trip, but I bonded with her a ton because we had a lot of the same interests."
What was your typical day like while you were there?
"We played five different teams in seven days. In the morning our coach would have a joint practice so the other team could see how an American practice is run. We would then play that same team later in the afternoon. Sometimes we would only practice or only play a game. Afterward, we would go hang out with the team and get to know them.
"Overall, the trip was very demanding. We walked everywhere. We stayed in a hostel, so we would walk from our hostel to get on the train, then get off the train and walk to the gym. You had to carry your backpack with everything possible in it. It felt like I was climbing a mountain half the time. It was definitely an experience, but I liked it."
Why was your team selected to go to Prague?
"The main reason we went to Prague was because the country is about 85 percent or 90 percent Atheist, or known as Atheist. Most of the people know that there maybe is some God out there, they just choose not to believe that or they don't want to know about it. They say it's partially from when there was Communism in the Czech when the country was part of Czechoslovakia. They say that suppressed the country and left it as it is now, but it is getting better. They have an actual Athletes in Action team in Czech, and that is who set everything up for us."
How did you get involved with Athletes in Action?
A Pastor at my Church knew a lot about it, so he had mentioned it to both Shayne (Mullaney) and me. Shayne's older sister, Kelly Jo, went to the Czech Republic last year, so we also knew a lot about it from her. One of the coaches from Hopkins High School goes to my Church and said that he would coach our team, so he and my pastor talked to me about it and I was totally up for it."
What was your favorite part of the trip?
"Obviously, playing basketball and getting to share God's word was one of the best parts, but being able to do it in a foreign country was amazing. I also loved seeing and touring Prague because it is so beautiful. I have never seen anything like that before. There is so much old architecture. The buildings are like 600 years old and there are giant Churches. I also love that they still have cobblestone roads. Minneapolis is nice, but it's not the same. We don't have a castle (laughing)."
Is it something you would like to do again?
"I would love to do it again. Probably not going back to Prague, just because that's somewhere I've already been. I would love to do different ones just because I love traveling, I love Jesus and I love basketball."