By: Julie Laugel and Mack Drake/GCU Staff
Proof that it’s never too late… or even too early… to find your passion.
Rian Braun of GCU Women’s Hockey and Jacob VanGerpen of GCU Ultimate are the GCU Club Sports July Student-Athletes of the Month for their performances as part of their respective club sports. Both students are dedicated to their game as well as share a passion of leading and helping others .
Getting this far, though, meant some refocusing of their athletic foundations before they hit their strides in the sport they excel in now.
Women’s Hockey: Rian Braun
Growing up in the small, hockey-obsessed town of Duluth, Minnesota, five-year-old Rian Braun had something she wanted to get off her chest.
“I want to score goals, Mom,” she announced once day.
Braun, now a Grand Canyon University Women’s Hockey standout, was sitting rinkside, watching her older brother glide across the ice when she made the demand. Figure skating, the sport her parents pushed her towards early on, wasn’t cutting it anymore.
She wanted to score goals.
“Growing up in Minnesota, there are ice rinks every few blocks,” said Braun, a sophomore forward. “Everybody loves hockey there. I was interested in it from a young age, and knew it was the sport I wanted to play.”
After urging their daughter to give figure skating one more year, Braun’s parents finally caved. After developing her skills in the junior ranks, Braun eventually migrated to the warmer climate of Arizona to pursue her nursing degree at GCU.
Hockey, at least initially, wasn’t part of the plan.
“I was wearing a hockey t-shirt one day on campus, and Amelia (a huge fan of the team) tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was playing,” Braun reflected. “I wasn’t a player at the time, but the question got me interested, and I eventually ended up joining the team here.”
Braun, who wrapped up her first season with the Lopes in February, was an integral part of GCU’s Blue Line Buddies program – a youth initiative designed to grow the game of hockey in Arizona by allowing young girls to spend time with GCU players in the locker room and on the ice during warm-ups.
“To be involved with growing the game here is big for me,” Braun said. “Coming from a huge hockey state like Minnesota, I was fortunate to grow up around the game. Our goal is to spend time with girls who are interested in playing hockey, help them learn the game and stay with it as they get older.”
Despite COVID-19’s destruction, Braun is still finding ways to stay busy this summer, serving as a certified nursing assistant at the Diamond Willow Assisted Living nursing home in her hometown of Duluth.
“It’s been a great experience,” Braun said. “I just love to help people. I don’t know the exact specification I want to go into after GCU, but I know I want to help people through nursing.”
Ultimate: Jacob VanGerpen
A natural-born competitor, VanGerpen has been active in sports his whole life but was introduced to ultimate during his senior year of high school. Shortly after, he and his friends started the first frisbee club at their school, and he carried his love for the game with him to college, joining GCU Club Ultimate his freshman year.
“I have played sports my entire life, but I have never had a team like the GCU Ultimate team,” said VanGerpen. “I have found some of my best friends through this game and community, and I am so happy I joined my freshman year.”
VanGerpen credits his parents as the influence that helped mold him into the leader and athlete that he is today.
“My dad has taught me to never quit, even when something is difficult, and my mom has taught me how to truly care for people,” said VanGerpen.
As one of the top scorers on the team, VanGerpen is not only dedicated to becoming the best player he can be, but he also uses his role as a captain to mentor and make an impact on his fellow teammates.
“I have grown a lot as a person through ultimate and have figured out the role that I play on the team,” said VanGerpen. “I love being a leader and having people look up to me. I put a big focus into making sure that people are happy and keeping their desire to play sports. Being a captain has taught me to be patient and show a lot of compassion towards others.”
VanGerpen plans to utilize his passion in sports and helping others by pursuing a degree in exercise science with an emphasis in sports performance in hopes to become a sports performance specialist, helping to train teams and protect their bodies from injury.
Even with the obstacles of COVID-19, VanGerpen still manages to work on his game by lifting and playing with friends to keep strong and consistent.
Interested in getting involved? Find out how to join one of the many clubs and organizations GCU has to offer!