This story appears in FCA Magazine’s May/June 2018 issue.
• Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar-Athlete (2017, 2015)
• Ohio Valley Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll (2017, 2016)
• Twice named to the USTA National Zonals Team
“I run in the path of your commandments, for you have set my heart free.” — Psalm 119:32 (WEB)
As an 8-year-old, Suzanna Stapler told her father, Dale, her college plans: play tennis and study architecture. Half of those plans came to fruition. As a senior at Belmont University, FCA has provided encouragement to Stapler as she competes and pursues a marketing degree. On the tennis team, Stapler is enjoying her new role as a veteran leader in supporting nine younger teammates to reach their athletic and spiritual potential.
FCA: What drew you to tennis?
SS: I started in gymnastics and soon realized I wasn’t a good fit. Then, I did soccer and enjoyed it, but my parents saw some pretty good hand-eye coordination early on. They said, “Let’s try her in tennis.” It clicked within the first year.
I like that every point is different. There’s also a lot of variety of shots. You have to figure your opponent out. It’s very mental, which is the worst and best part of it.
FCA: How does tennis relate to your faith?
SS: You get out there, and you’re pretty much fighting by yourself. The coach can offer advice, but can’t play for you or sub you out. You’re just out there, and you really see what you’re made of time and time again. I can be running as fast as I can and working really hard, but if my mind isn’t there, it’s definitely possible to lose a match. You can’t just be strong or fast or any one quality. You really have to put it all together.
It’s taught me [a lot] about grace, how grace works for us. I have to have grace on myself when I’m working hard and still failing. Just like with my faith, I can’t just try to be the best person. That’s ultimately not going to draw me close to God. It’s all about pursuing what the Lord has and seeing what the results end up being.
FCA: Why is Psalm 119:32 one of your favorite Bible verses?
SS: It’s so refreshing to read every time. Whether I’m overthinking things on the court or trying to figure out something with a friendship or in a classroom, it helps me just know God created us for freedom, and that freedom is where the love comes in. Recognizing that freedom He surrounded us with, we’re able to run in His commands.
FCA: How has your involvement with FCA impacted your faith?
SS: You look around the room [at FCA] and see a group of people that can immediately relate in such a deep way with the efforts we put into sports. But, at the same time, you think of the verse (1 Timothy 4:8) that talks about physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things.
Surrounding yourself with that kind of community was vital for me to continue to persevere. If you know what you’re fighting for — if you know you’re out there ultimately to give God glory and to use the gifts He’s given you — it doesn’t take the pressure off, but it does give you a healthier perspective.
FCA: Why is FCA important?
SS: With athletics, it’s so tempting to always want to be strong in front of other people. But FCA draws you to a place where you can be vulnerable. You can be open about what you believe about verses, and I think it helps you realize your worth to God has little to do with your results on the field, court or anywhere else.
FCA Staff Quote:
“Suzanna pursues an authentic, transparent walk with Jesus in such a way that others are loved well and encouraged to follow Him. She is so joyful as she fixes her eyes on Jesus. So many of her classmates, teammates and others have been impacted by her reflection of the heart of Jesus.”
— Jennifer Ross
FCA Area Representative
Photos courtesy of Belmont Athletics.