Goal Oriented: Grad Ally Swanson Excels on the Field and off



In athletics, in higher education, in the medical field – everywhere the buzzword is “specialization.” In baseball, bullpens are flooded with left-handed specialists and ground-ball specialists; soccer has free-kick specialists and players who specialize in long throw-ins. Academics publish papers on increasingly niche subjects. We see one doctor to diagnose a health issue, but another to treat it.

Amidst all this specialization, someone like recent graduate Ally Swanson is refreshing – someone whose interests and talents cover multiple fields: the soccer field and the medical field, just to name two. Swanson, a former goalkeeper on the women’s soccer team, boasts a formidable resume of her time at George Fox: athlete, RA, aspiring dentist, and recipient of a full-ride scholarship to Oregon Health & Science University’s dental school. Though her achievements are markedly diverse, they share commonality: whatever Swanson does, she seems to do well.

Even so, Swanson will be the first to say that who she is goes far beyond what she does. “The things I do,” said Swanson, “are simply expressions of the strengths, gifts and abilities that [God] has blessed me with. So in everything I do, I hope to bring glory to God in some small way.” Undoubtedly, Swanson has remarkable gifts, particularly as an athlete. In the 2014 season, she started 15 games in goal for the Bruins and allowed only 21 goals against, an average of just 1.50 per game. Swanson also posted three shutouts, and her save percentage was a sterling .857. At the end of the season, she deservedly claimed an all-Northwest Conference second-team spot.


“Before coming to Fox,” Swanson said, “I had played soccer for nearly my entire life, and I’d always been a goalkeeper. In fact, the opportunity to continue my soccer career was a major factor in my decision to attend George Fox.”Once at George Fox, Swanson saw her talent – and her ability to lead – bloom. “I was very comfortable being in leadership roles all throughout middle school and high school, so I knew that being an RA was something that I wanted to do even before attending Fox. As a goalkeeper, I have a unique perspective of the field, so I’m responsible for organizing and communicating to the team where they need to be.”Hindsight, as they say, is always sharp. Looking back from where Swanson has ended up, it seems difficult to imagine her story developing any other way – to conceive of Swanson as anything but who she is. But, as she says, when she arrived at George Fox, nothing felt so certain. “Before coming to Fox,” Swanson explained, “I tended to identify myself by what I did. But I now understand that my identity is who God made me to be.”Like her growth on the soccer field or in the laboratory, this understanding needed time to evolve and emerge. She credits George Fox with, in scientific terms, incubating this new sense of identity. Through the leadership opportunities George Fox offered, Swanson grew the only way she knows how: through action.“I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember, and I chose to come to George Fox because it is a faith-based institution. A major turning point for me was probably when I went on Walkabout, the RA backpacking trip, before my sophomore year. During that time of quiet solitude, I heard God speak more clearly than ever before. I kept hearing ‘Love God, love others,’ over and over. Since then, these words have been my anchor.”This year, Swanson suddenly found herself in need of her anchor, when a torn ACL dropped an early curtain on her senior season. After her all-NWC junior season, Swanson was limited to just seven games and six starts. She logged only half as many minutes played.

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“Tearing my ACL was probably one of the biggest obstacles I had to face in my entire soccer career,” she says. “Initially, I was absolutely devastated. I felt like I had so much more I wanted to accomplish and give to the team on the field.”As Swanson readily admits, she easily could’ve brooded over what she couldn’t do, the loss of playing time and mobility. Instead, keeping in mind her anchor – “Love God, love others” – she decided to turn her attention outwards. “I changed my perspective and started listing all the things I could do. I could spend time with other teammates who were also doing rehab for their injuries. I could attend practices and help instruct and encourage my fellow goalkeepers. I could be at games, cheering on my team as loudly as possible. And I could still spend time with my teammates off the field.” Ask Swanson, and she’ll tell you that her injury in fact reinforced her conviction: caring for others, teammates, and patients and friends is always possible.“My soccer teammates, my RA staffs, my ACs, my classmates . . . all of them have positively influenced me in both big ways and small ways, and I can only hope that I was able to do the same for them. Aside from being able to grow as a leader and learn about my strengths and weaknesses, I was able to form relationships with such a wide variety of incredible people,” said Swanson.Now graduated, Swanson has the opportunity to form brand-new relationships with a group of people even broader and more unfamiliar. As a winner of a Scholars for a Healthy Oregon Initiative Scholarship, Swanson will begin her four-year dental program at OHSU – at no cost. As the scholarship’s title suggests, Swanson excelled in the classroom, and her academic performance more than justifies the award. But, still, Swanson deflects the praise. Behind the scholarship lies a long series of events that Swanson attributes to God.“I got the chance to connect with a man who teaches and is on the board of admissions at OHSU. I was able to visit OHSU and get a personal tour before I applied. When I was applying, I was worried about being able to pay for all the application and test fees, but God provided. I got an unexpected paycheck that was exactly the amount I needed. By the time I was invited for an interview at OHSU, I had an incredible sense of peace about everything.”

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Her sense of peace was, as it turns out, well-founded. She was accepted into the OHSU program. Of course, she still needed to pay, and dental school tuition comes with sticker-shock. But Swanson, in her words, “knew better than to worry about it.”“God had been with me every step of the journey in so many visible and tangible ways. Who was I to doubt that He would come through? And inevitably He did, in the most unexpected way. By the time I found out that I was a recipient of the Scholars for a Healthy Oregon Initiative Scholarship, I had completely forgotten that I had even applied!” Swanson’s story is far from over, and she knows that the unexpected always manages to arise. Still, she remains philosophical.“It’s OK to have plans and goals, but when life throws you a curveball, your whole world doesn’t have to fall apart. Be flexible and remember that God is in control.” As she moves forward, off the field and into the lab, Swanson may not know exactly what is to come, but she knows exactly how she’ll respond. Regardless of where she finds herself, she knows that her outward focus, her efforts to “Love God, love others,” will be enough.“After dental school, I will be working in a rural and/or underserved area of Oregon for five years, which is part of the terms of the scholarship I received. God truly is the Provider, and with all the ways He has demonstrated that to me in the past few years, I have no excuses left. I have learned to trust Him more with everything in my life, both big and small.”Graduation