By BRANDEE BRITT
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It took a few shots in the dark for University of Iowa women’s basketball seniors Hannah Stewart and Megan Gustafson to help USA Team to a FISU America Games gold medal this summer.
“At halftime of the gold medal game, the lights went out in the entire arena,” said Stewart. “We were all sitting there waiting for the lights to come back on when the referee blew the whistle and told us to play. It would be like playing in Carver during the day with no lights. Some light was shining through the doors, but we played in very, very dark conditions.”
The arena lacked actual light, but USA Team wasted no time creating its own spark on the court. The Americans went on a significant third-quarter run and eventually won the gold medal game, 59-42, against host Brazil.
“We played an entire quarter in the dark and managed to go on a big run,” Stewart said. “I guess we sort of defied the odds there.”
That wasn’t the only obstacle the team had to overcome that day. Due to an uncommunicated last-minute game time switch, USA Team arrived to the Brazilian Paralympic Training Center a few hours too early. That left the coaching staff with three hours to get their entire team a meal in a city of 25 million people.
“We didn’t want to go into a restaurant and order something because we didn’t know what we were getting, so we all had to take separate Ubers to the nearest McDonald’s,” Stewart said. “I had a chicken sandwich and a milkshake right before we played our game. We were all laughing because we knew we shouldn’t be eating it, but it was literally our only option.
“At the end of the day we all kept saying, ‘Golden Arches get Gold Medals.'”
While winning the gold medal was certainly sweet, the purpose of the trip was far greater for the two Hawkeye seniors. Stewart and Gustafson were invited to the trip through Athletes in Action — a Christian ministry.
“Our team in Brazil was cohesive even though we had only played together for a week,” said Stewart. “We all became close, and you could tell it was because we were playing for the purpose of spreading the gospel. When we find that same purpose and we are all working toward one common goal, it just brings us that much closer and makes us that much better.”
The team also had the opportunity to serve at Samaritan’s Feet where they got to wash the feet of kids in poverty and provide them with a new pair of shoes.
“In the Bible, Jesus washed people’s feet and that showed his humility,” Gustafson said. “That’s something that we all strive to do every day — to have that servant’s heart. Taking part in Samaritan’s Feet provided me and my teammates with an opportunity to really live that out.”
Now, over a month removed from their trip, Gustafson and Stewart are extremely grateful for the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I’m so thankful to (head) coach (Lisa) Bluder and everyone who made this trip possible,” Stewart said. “Going to Brazil was a dream come true, and I am so grateful.”
“I feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to go on the trip,” Gustafson said. “It would have been an incredible trip to go on by myself, but having Hannah there was like the cherry on top. Experiencing this with her was incredible.”