Salisbury midfielder Arielle Johnston found her calling through the foundation of sports and a mission trip to Uganda last winter.
Johnston has been a standout for the Salisbury University field hockey team. She secured the 2019 Capital Athletic Conference Player of the Year Award for her contributions to the third-ranked team in Division III.
But the standout midfielder never planned to pick up a stick.
The Crisfield native grew up wanting to play soccer. She had family members who played, and she wanted to get involved with the sport as well.
“I grew up playing soccer… I didn’t grow up playing field hockey,” Johnston said. “My mom started me in soccer when I was like five, my brother played, so I wanted to also. I didn’t want to try field hockey at all - I thought it was a girly sport.”
Johnston was pushed to give field hockey a try around sixth grade because Crisfield High School did not have a women’s soccer team.
While she continued to play soccer until the end of eighth grade, Johnston’s life had changed from that point. It did not take long for Johnston to fall in love with field hockey.
As a community health major, Johnston was unsure of what she wanted to do after graduating. She knew one thing for certain, though: she wanted to help others, regardless of the field.
Johnston’s faith led her to wanting to go on the mission trip. Her mother told her about a magazine that was advertising a mission trip she thought Johnston may be interested in.
She was right. Johnston was very intrigued by the opportunity and decided to go all in on the opportunity.
Johnston volunteered as an assistant soccer coach during the mission trip in Uganda. She served as both a mentor and a friend to the children at the camp.
Johnston said that the goal of Reaction Tour, the group in charge of orchestrating the trip, inspired her to want to continue helping people.
“For the longest time, I wasn’t sure how I really wanted to use my degree to help people,” Johnston said. “When I read why the founder started the ministry to use the avenue of sports to empower individuals to help their community, it resonated with me and I wanted to be a part of it.”
During her time there, a couple obstacles arose that Johnston had to tackle as a mentor to the kids.
It rained on one of the days of the trip, and the campers weren’t happy about having to lose a day of soccer. Johnston took the opportunity to speak to the kids about real-life situations.
“I remember telling the kids that this is like life. Sometimes, it’s not going to be what you want and you’re going to have to choose how to make the best out of it,” Johnston said. “I tried to take that role as a mentor because you must choose the mind set you want to have.”
While Johnston helped the campers overcome obstacles, she had to endure an obstacle of her own.
Johnston flew out of Maryland to Texas, then from Texas to Dubai, then over to Uganda. The first flight to Texas got delayed, so Johnston had to sit in the airport until around 5 a.m.
Once Johnston landed in Texas, there was no time to spare. She had very little time to change and get ready to board another airplane.
“I had to meet the other group at 7 a.m., so as soon as I got off the flight, I had to sprint to the hotel and change,” Johnston said. “I didn’t sleep at all, so, on the flight from Texas-Dubai I slept the first seven hours of it.”
But despite the lack of sleep and the long flights over and back, Johnston said the experience was worth every second.
For Johnston, the experience was more than just being a soccer coach and doing activities with the campers. It was about giving the kids the tools they need to succeed in life, both as an individual and in the community.
The mission trip allowed her to combine two of her favorite things: sports and helping others. Moving forward, the experience is one she will not soon forget.
“I felt very humbled and honored to be a part of it,” Johnston said. “Just to be a part of the life-long impact and empowering the kids … was very awesome.”
By DANIELLE TYLER
Featured photo: Megan Kay Photography