600 strong, BYU athletes are in a service league all their own

By Shaun Stahle

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, July 14 2014 10:00 a.m. MDT

Chloe Richardson, BYU freshman track star from Arizona, left; Lexi Eaton, center, highly acclaimed athlete on the BYU women's basketball and track teams; and Ashley Garfield, right, of the BYU women's basketball team, join in a moment of fun with several hundred young women in the Springville Utah Dry Creek Stake on June 10, 2014, in the mountains at the Heber Valley Camp. The three athletes speak regularly to youth groups to share their experiences as an expression of their appreciation to donors who sponsor their scholarships. Each shared moments of triumph and challenge while encouraging the young women to create dreams of their own.

Shaun Stahle, LDS Philanthropies

When it comes to rendering service in the community, student-athletes at BYU are in a league all their own. Each year more than 600 student-athletes provide service in the surrounding communities, lending their muscle and life’s experiences for the benefit of others.

“No university in the country has a program like this,” said Bob Wakefield, who has co-chaired this community outreach service project for BYU with his wife Cindy since 2003. “We visit the national conventions and hear what others are doing. No other university reports anything of the magnitude or scale of these athletes. And what makes this service still more unique are the spiritual aspects of teaching and testifying.”

Over the years, this service has taken the shape of many projects, including laying sod, building homes through Heart2Home, visiting patients in hospitals and assisted living centers, honoring children with special needs and treating needy families at Christmas.

One of the highly popular forms of service comes in addressing youth groups in devotionals, school assemblies, youth conferences, girls camps or Eagle Scout court of honors.

“What I find interesting,” said Bob Wakefield, “is that the high-profile athletes are also the ones most eager to accept speaking invitations,” commenting on how Tyler Haws led the list of speakers last year.

In the course of a year, the Wakefields coordinate upwards of 250 requests for student-athlete speakers, which amounts to approximately 1,500 hours of community service.

In early June, Hayden Palmer, a decorated swimmer, addressed the graduating class of a charter school in Salt Lake County. He spoke of dreams and how they ignited his desire to work hard and set high goals. His ambition, he said, was to win a state championship as a sophomore in high school. Swimming in the championship heat, he described how the defending champion who was a senior was nearly a full body length ahead — a lead that was almost insurmountable, he said.

Without drawing attention to himself and without launching into dramatic fanfare, Palmer simply told how his hard work had given him a deep reservoir of strength to draw from, allowing him to stroke harder and kick faster, propelling him to the championship.

On another evening, high in the mountains at the Heber Valley Girls Camp, three female athletes walked from table to table during the dinner hour, visiting with several hundred young women from the Springville Dry Creek Stake. Soon after they led the girls up the hill to an amphitheater carved out in the trees where they joined in singing camp songs and then, one by one, shared their testimonies.

Chloe Richardson, a freshman track star from Arizona, delighted the girls with her pink tennis shoes by kicking her foot high in the air. She then related her personal plight in considering whether to serve a mission. Her personal struggles and inner thoughts resonated with the girls, some of whom were close to her age and facing similar challenges.

Ashley Garfield, a member of the women’s basketball team, told how athletes improve their ability to compete by improving their strength. Greater physical strength, she said, comes by increasing resistance. She then opened the scriptures to show the young women how the Lord uses the same principle of resistance in the form of challenges and trials to strengthen faith.

Lexi Eaton, a highly acclaimed athlete who competes on the women’s basketball and track teams, captivated the girls with her stories of prayer, scripture study and service. She chose five girls from the audience to join her on the stage and asked them about a deep passion they felt for some talent or activity. After conversing with each and causing the girls to laugh, she turned more solemn and asked how each would feel if the ability to participate in her passion was suddenly taken away?

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