Play and purpose

News | March 28, 2024

Three St. Paul athletes reflect on how play and purpose intersect in their lives.

Ramsey Vens
St. Ambrose University Men’s and Women’s Swim Coach

Ramsey Vens isn’t just showing her college and club swimmers proper technique, she actively guides these athletes during the formative years of their lives, showing up as a positive emotional support and demonstrating how to walk through adult life.

Ramsey showed an aptitude for swimming at a young age and quickly passed through swim lessons and onto club swimming. During her senior year of college, she was hired to coach a high school swim club and has gone on to coach at both the club and collegiate level. Ramsey is currently the head coach of the Men’s and Women’s Swim teams at St. Ambrose University, and she runs a swimming program with her wife Connie right out of their home pool.

“When I was just starting, did I imagine being a swim coach would be my profession? No, but I love it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Finding your purpose is something a lot of people struggle with. I wouldn’t be honest if I said I hadn’t struggled with that many times myself,” Ramsey said. “We often ask ourselves ‘Is the direction I’m going where I want to be in my life right now? Am I filling my cup?’ What I come back to is God put me in this position to help these athletes, and not just for performance reasons. I’m here to be an emotional support in their lives, showing them that they are heard and that I relate to what they’re going through. If there’s anything they need to tackle in their lives, inside or outside of swimming, I’m there for them. Communication is important to me and when I struggle, I share my struggles with them as well.”

Ramsey knows being an athlete and a swimmer are important and often identity-defining to younger athletes, but she encourages and challenges them to do more and be more.

“I always try to have compassion for every swimmer, both with the college kids and the younger club swimmers. Swimming is a part of them but it’s not who they are. It’s important for each swimmer to have other passions to be involved with,” she said. “If we have a goal to be super successful at the end of the season, there are sacrifices to be made but these swimmers shouldn’t give up the other things they love. Being a multi-sport athlete builds character. They’re still figuring out who they are so for me to pigeonhole them would be a disservice.”

Dave Juehring
Olympic bobsled coach and team leader

Dave Juerhing’s passion for sports is in his blood. In high school, at Davenport West, Dave was an All-American shot put and discus thrower, attending Iowa State University on a track scholarship. He later found his way onto the ice, first competing in inline skating before moving to bobsled and skeleton.

For more than 12 years, Dave was active with the U.S. Olympic Bobsled Program as a driving coach and team leader. In 2002, he helped lead the first-ever women’s bobsled team to gold and men’s teams to silver and bronze (the first men’s win in 50 years) at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

“Athletics has always been a big part of my life. Going to the Olympics was an incredible experience but at the end of the day you’re developing people; you’re helping people get to a better destination in their lives and becoming the best they can be.”

Dave may have spent some of his professional life on the world stage, but it was at home with his family that he saw the biggest impact.

“The crowning jewel of my athletics was working with our son Dane. He was a high school shot putter and helping him meant so much to me. It’s about watching them grow and creating a community that supports and helps each other.”

Dave is also the director of the Chiropractic Rehabilitation and Sports Injury Department at Palmer Chiropractic College in Davenport.

“It’s the same with my work. I enjoy what I do. Whether you’re working with a patient or working with a student to become a doctor, it always comes back to helping people and improving the larger community.”

Isabella Sels

Isabella grew up with a focus on creating art and playing piano, but taking a chance on a summer camp helped her find one of her deepest passions: rowing.

In the summer before she started eighth grade, Isabella, inspired by a friend’s older brother, decided to sign up for a summer camp for beginning rowers. That summer, she found close friends, a love of being on the water, and a sport that stuck with her.

Rowing is a year-long sport. When not out on the water, training doesn’t stop, stepping out of the boats and onto rowing machines. Last year, Isabella and her team qualified for the national rowing competition. During spring break, she and her teammates headed down to Sarasota, Florida to train on the national course. Now a sophomore at Pleasant Valley High School, Isabella continues to learn, grow, and challenge herself.

“Rowing has become my main activity. I practice nearly every day. I have goals to work toward and I strive to keep getting better. And our team has goals together.”

Isabella believes persistence, resilience, a willingness to grow and challenge yourself as well as supporting your teammates are important attributes for athletes to have.

“It takes a lot of trust in each other to row and get through a race together, especially when you get into the bigger boats. You must trust that the other people are doing their job while you do yours. It’s all about getting to know your teammates and being in sync with each other.”

Isabella said her faith helps her work through pre-race nerves.

“Rowing isn’t an easy sport. I rely on God to give me confidence and strength, especially when I’m nervous. Being out there, on the water, surrounded by nature, that’s what God created.”

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