When Caitlin Duffy, 20, spoke with the Denver Catholic Register Feb. 18, it was shortly before she boarded a charter flight from Fort Collins to Boise. There she and Colorado State teammates would take on Boise State in women’s basketball.
Duffy, who leads the team in free throws and the conference in three-pointers, went on to score 11 points in the Ram’s 71-51 victory, further sealing their first-place position in the Mountain West and achieving a record-breaking amount of wins in conference action (13-2 in MW and 21-5 overall as of Feb. 24).
Despite a jam-packed schedule that includes travel, games, practices, meetings, classes, homework and everything else demanded of a college athlete, Duffy has kept things in perspective and remained strong in her faith with support from her family, her team and Varsity Catholic, a division of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
“Coming to college was a big adjustment for me, I was really nervous,” she said. “Finding Varsity Catholic was life-changing … it’s really been what’s kept me going a lot of times because there are so many ups and down with coming to college, and then balancing that with playing a Division I (National Collegiate Athletic Association) sport.”
Varsity Catholic was launched in 2007 at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln as an outreach to student-athletes offering Bible studies, one-on-one mentoring and other events.
“It’s extremely difficult for athletes to live out their faith due to time restraints, pressures and temptations that can come with their platform,” said Thomas Wurtz, director. The organization seeks to “develop the complete athlete,” he said, and beyond that, impact the wider industry.
“We believe collegiate athletics is the springboard to the entire world of sport which is a $400 billion industry in the U.S. alone,” he continued. “Athletes are some of the most influential men and women on their campuses, and will continue to be so in society after they graduate.”
Duffy, a native of Rapid City, S.D. and one of eight children to Karrie and Dan Duffy, welcomes the chance to share her faith when the opportunity arises.
“It all starts with developing relationships,” she said. “I could not be with a better group of girls and I think this, especially at this point in the season, is one thing that sets teams apart: we really are great friends on and off the floor; we love to be together, to play together and really push each other.”
As those relationships have developed, some teammates—Catholics, non-Catholic Christians and even those identifying as atheist—have started to ask questions about faith.
“It’s been so cool for me,” said Duffy. “Because at times I think all athletes … with sports playing such an important role in their lives wonder: How does this fit in?
“My faith is the foundation of everything I do,” she continued. “And one of the biggest things for me this year is beginning to share that with the girls on my team and other athletes at CSU.”
Christina Wirth, 26, a former professional basketball player in Europe and Women’s National Basketball Association team, the Indiana Fever, is the first full-time Varsity Catholic missionary on the CSU campus. She mentors members of not only the women’s basketball team, but also the swimming and diving and volleyball teams.
“I understand the demanding schedule these girls have,” Wirth said, adding that it’s important for her to meet them “where they’re at”—to ask about their lives, listen to them and develop bonds of trust.
“I work with a varied group, a lot of non-Catholics as well,” she added. “It’s really beautiful.”
Nationwide Varsity Catholic has 22 full-time missionaries, who were all college athletes themselves, on 15 campuses; plus another 43 part-time missionaries at 28 additional campuses. Last semester, some 550 student-athletes were involved in Varsity Catholic Bible studies.
“We prepare the athletes to be effective leaders; to be someone that young people and peers can look up to,” Wurtz said. “We really try to help them live their faith in that ‘real life’ environment.”
For more information, visit www.varsitycatholic.org.
Varsity Catholic | By the Numbers
Missionaries nationwide: 65
Campuses nationwide: 43
Student-athletes in Bible study last semester: 550