DURHAM, N.C. – When Duke women’s lacrosse junior Angel Thompson suffered a torn ACL early last season, the trials of undergoing surgery and rehabilitation were similar to what many athletes go through after suffering major injuries.
But Thompson, who had completed a mission trip to Kenya just a few months prior to suffering the injury, was able to use her experiences and perspectives gained on the trip to motivate her through recovery and in getting back on the field this year.
Hailing from The Woodlands, Texas, Thompson has assumed leadership positions in multiple campus organizations during her time at Duke, in addition to serving as a goalkeeper with the Blue Devils and handling a full academic slate. She says her eagerness to get to know her peers and propensity to lead was largely cultivated by the mission trip she was a part of the summer before her sophomore year.
As a youth ministry intern with her church in Texas, Thompson traveled to Nairobi, Kenya during the summer of 2012. She was a part of a group of other college students and ministry leaders that visited schools in the surrounding villages, interacting with students of all ages and sharing their faith.
Noting a number of differences between the United States and Kenya in terms of the role religion plays in society and the educational system, Thompson says the students were very receptive to the group’s message.
“Everyone would come together and then we’d put on a skit for them and sing worship songs with them,” she said. “Then one of us would go up and share something about our lives or that we’ve learned. A lot of the time it was us sharing our life stories and our testimonies.”
When it was Thompson’s turn to share her journey and faith with a group of young girls one day, she says she felt overwhelmingly nervous. But the experience proved to be a turning point, providing her with the confidence to connect with people of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs.
Thompson was able to call on that experience upon arriving back in the U.S., as she took over responsibilities for leading Duke’s student-athlete bible study, Time Out, that fall. She also currently represents the women’s lacrosse program on Duke’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
“It was a great segway into leadership because when I went to Kenya, it was basically on me to interact with all the kids at the different schools,” Thompson says. “It really helped me build relations and know how to talk to people and dive into their lives. When I came back for my sophomore year and started leading Time Out, I already had a background in it and knew more how to facilitate. I wasn’t really as nervous because I felt like if I can stand up in front of 300 girls and tell my life story, I can talk to 10 people in the K-Center classroom.”
That experience in leadership has also translated on the lacrosse field, where Thompson has developed confidence in asserting herself vocally, even while injured. It has also helped her learn to connect with her teammates in new ways.
“Leading Time Out has really helped me develop what voice I want to have on the team – how I want to lead, what’s most effective for certain players on our team,” she says. “It’s given me a lot more of a leadership background and understanding and grace for what’s going on in people’s lives.”
Thompson says her time spent in Nairobi increased her appreciation for resources many in America take for granted. The trip and her interactions with the children there also helped lend perspective when going through tough times, such as her injury.
“I went on my mission trip and then my sophomore year is when I tore my ACL, so I was kind of coming off of a high to having the worst injury that I could possibly have in sports,” she said. “I’m so glad I went on that trip because it really strengthened me for that event to happen. I just injured my knee but it doesn’t mean life is over. There is so much more that God is going to be able to do in my life.”
After spending all of last season recovering and rehabilitating, Thompson has enjoyed being back on the field as the Blue Devils approach their season opener Feb. 7. She is looking forward to providing guidance and leadership to her teammates, and as a junior pre-med major at Duke, is also starting to anticipate how she can utilize those skills post-graduation and perhaps venture abroad again to share her message.
“Whenever you go abroad and see how people live differently, it’s an eye-opener and a humbling experience,” Thompson said. “I’m glad that I had it because I appreciate everything so much more. There’s so much more to be content about and be happy about in life.”