The class of 2021 is done with their freshman year. Read a bit about what they did before coming to PHC!
Justine Van Ness
by Becca Samelson
Though sick with the flu and a 103 fever, ten-year-old Justine Van Ness still donned a leotard and nailed her bars, beam, floor, and vault routines to win first place at her gymnastics meet.
Ever since she was six, gymnastics has been a major part of Van Ness’s life. “I was literally the klutziest child ever,” she said. “I would fall all over the place.” Her lack of coordination and antics led her parents to place her in a beginner’s class at California Gymnastics. Though she only participated with the Orange County gym for a year, she started again when she turned eight, hitting the gym for 11 hours a week.
“For the first 30 minutes, you warm up, and then you have rotations... [from] vault, bars, beams, and floor,” Van Ness said. At first, Van Ness competed in compulsory At first, Van Ness competed in compulsory levels of the USAG (USA Gymnastics), meaning each gymnast needed to complete the exact routine on each event. Once Van Ness reached level 7, she competed in optionals. “My best was when I got to optionals,” she said. “I was able to pick what was best for me.” Once she could create her own routines, Van Ness qualified to regionals and placed 3rd in the all-round competition, 2nd in bars, 3rd on floor, 4th on vault, and 6th on beam.
When participating in gymnastics, Van Ness learned to overcome fear. “The biggest thing is when you can do a giant on bars,” she said. To perform the handstand into a full circle skill on the bars, she had to overcome a lot of fear. “Once you get that, you feel like you’re a gymnast,” she said.
By the time she was in high school, Van Ness spent an average of 20-25 hours a week working out in the gym. “I [also] did speech and debate,” she said, “but I wasn’t friends with anyone besides my gym friends… [and] I didn’t have any Christian gym friends. That was hard.”
However, balancing a social life with her gym life wasn’t the hardest thing Van Ness would face. When she was 16, Van Ness injured her elbow during practice at the beginning of the gymnastics season. Although her mother told her not to compete, Van Ness still went to the match and sprained both her ankles on the vault. After going to the doctor, she discovered she had torn a ligament in her elbow and that she couldn’t use her elbow for three months. “I was crushed and cried for a long time,” Van Ness said. While resting from gymnastics for those three months, Van Ness grew three inches. “[When I went back], I had to completely relearn everything [now that I was taller,]” she explained.
Two weeks before their first meet, her coach told her, “I think you should consider being done with gymnastics… You’re going to get hurt.” However, being injured didn’t keep her out of the gym. “After I got injured, I started coaching,” she said. “I was in the gym six days a week.”
When looking at colleges, Van Ness would search for nearby gymnastics facilities that needed coaches. “All the other colleges I looked at had gyms that were over an hour away,” she noted. So when applying for PHC, Van Ness found Apex Gymnastics nearby and saw they needed people to coach the levels she coached back home. “It was like it was from God,” she said. She now coaches at Apex in her free time. “It’s a nice break to completely relax and do something I love,” Van Ness said. “I love working with kids.”
While on campus, Van Ness walks the halls and the upper level of the library in handstands when she gets bored, stressed, or needs to think. “Sometimes I get urges… [where] I need to get in a gym and swing bars and do backflips,” she explained. “It’s like a stress reliever.”
Van Ness lamented the lack of athletic opportunity at PHC, especially that of a cheer team. However, she encouraged students to take interest in gymnastics. “For anybody, even if you can’t do it, it’s fun! Even learning to do gymnastics just teaches your body coordination,” she said. “If you want to learn, come to me!”
by Blake Toman
In the 8 meter gap between the two white metal posts on the far end of the pitch, the 12-year-old goalkeeper for the Terre Haute Fusion, Ben Purnell, mentally prepares himself for another hectic 70 minutes. He will stave off an onslaught of shots to keep his team in the game.
Ben faces a few obstacles, the least of which is his youth. He will be competing against teams with players nearly six years older than him. Moreover, the young keeper is only 4 feet 11 inches tall, and the goal is 8 feet tall. Even with a lunging dive towards the upper corners and his arms fully outstretched, there are some areas of the goal he can’t reach.
That doesn’t stop Ben from trying. Even though his team lost almost every game that season by more than five goals, Ben still remembers his time with the Terre Haute Fusion varsity high school soccer team fondly. The experience shaped the way he approaches nearly everything he has done since.
Benjamin David Purnell was born on Nov. 18, 1999, in the small town of Brazil, Ind. to Charles and Barbara Purnell. Barbara homeschooled Ben, the second youngest of 11 until he attended Patrick Henry College in the fall of 2017. Although Ben taught himself how to read at six-years-old, he didn’t have an interest in school until he turned twelve. “Ben would always finish school quickly,” Melissa Purnell, his sister, said. “And afterward he would run into the yard and throw a football to himself, even in the cold.”
Ben’s love for sports spanned farther than football in the backyard. When he was five years-old, Ben starting playing soccer in a local park district league. “I found I loved the sport, and I wanted to continue playing it,” Ben said. However, he didn’t realize he had a gift for playing soccer until he was nine years-old.
“I was asked to join the high school varsity team because they only had ten men for one of their games and needed me to be the eleventh man,” Ben said. They won the game 8-6. Ben proceeded to join a junior varsity middle school soccer team and eventually played for the varsity high school team, the Terre Haute Fusion, when he was 11 years-old.
“Being younger and less physically developed than my opponents, I was never able to beat people with pure athleticism. I had to beat them with my mind,” Ben said. “All the skills I had to learn without athleticism gave me an advantage when I played with the Sentinels in the fall because I had more athleticism than the teams we played against.”
The Terre Haute Fusion usually won at most one game a season. They regularly suffered double-digit losses by teams from Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, and other cities around the state. “Our team participated in a league and a tournament, but we were the worst team in the league. We were probably a junior varsity team at best,” Ben said.
One of those losses came at the hands of the Indy Warriors FC on Aug. 9, 2014, when the Warriors beat the Terre Haute Fusion 17-0. “Our coach told us that we could only score using our heads in the second half since we were up by nine goals,” Micah Bock, who played for the Indy Warriors FC that season, said. “So we started to flick up balls in the box and head them towards goal.” The Indy Warriors FC would tally eight goals in that half.
“Before playing for the team, I usually won a lot, but you’re not always going to win,” Ben said. “So it was important that I learned how to take losing well.”
Those around Ben have noticed the impact of that lesson on him. Daniel Thetford, Ben’s RA, noted that while Ben is good at most things he does, he doesn’t approach anything like he deserves it.
“I remember when Ben had to face a penalty kick against Regent when we were up six goals,” William Bock, one of the captains of the PHC men’s soccer team, said. “Ben got scored on by the penalty and Ben appeared unhappy with himself because he thought he could have saved it. He had the attitude of a professional: he was going to play his hardest no matter what the score was.”
Now Ben takes on more challenges than just soccer. He has the part of Florizel in the upcoming Eden Troupe production of The Winters Tale. He accompanies vocalists on the piano and tackles 16 credits of freshmen courses. He played in the D4 versus D5 dorm flag football game. In all those things, Ben seems to apply the lessons he learned from soccer. “Ben is successful at almost everything he tries,” Thetford said. “He doesn’t boast, but if you watch him, he puts everything he has into everything he does.”
by Vienna Jacobson
The train came to a halt. Unbeknownst to Samuel Ross, the train had just crossed the border from Denmark to Sweden. Police boarded the train and pulled Ross off, asking him questions, patting him down, and searching him. His arrest in the fall of 2016 seemed like a rough start for what Ross’s parents had hoped would be the start of spiritual renewal.
While Ross’s parents were not Christians when they adopted him and his two sisters they wanted something to pass on to their children. When Ross’s mother started considering different religions, Christianity was the only thing that made sense to her, and for Ross, this was all he can remember. “For as long as I can remember we had a Christian family,” Ross said.
While Ross considers his parents strong believers, their faith did not translate to him or his sisters in their growing up years. “My junior year of high school I started going my separate way from having a relationship with God,” Ross said. With more freedom, as he began to drive, there came a wider gap between him and God.
After moving to Colorado from Texas his sophomore year of high school, Ross went from being homeschooled to enrolling in public high school. His junior year, however, was when things started to change. His sister Melinda, who was in the same grade, dropped out to be homeschooled again and with her decision came the loss of almost all of their mutual friends.
While Ross still attended church Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings, he wasn’t really interested in Christianity. “It was part of a front that I had up to make my parents and Christian friends believe I was a good kid,” Ross said. While Ross never explicitly told his mother he was not a Christian, “She knew I wasn’t really a Christian,” Ross said. Entering his senior year of high school his mother and sister put their heads together to come up with a plan to get Ross back to his roots.
They insisted that if he wanted them to pay for the college he was already accepted to and planned on attending, he would have to attend a year at a Bible school. Torchbearers International had a school an hour away from his house, and after a tour there they found out about TI's school in Sweden where Ross chose to attend.
After applying for a visa in May of 2016, Ross found himself among the many North American students who hadn’t received their visas by the time the start of the school year rolled around. The school told the students to come anyway. In September of that same year, Ross boarded his first flight to Sweden.
While the other students had no problem getting to the school Ross wasn’t quite so lucky. “I was the only one who got caught and arrested,” Ross said. Crossing the border between Denmark and Sweden, Ross’s train was stopped and he was pulled off, arrested, and brought to the police station.
After Ross was patted down and his luggage thoroughly searched the police called the school and confirmed that he was, in fact, attending Bible school.
This was not the end to Ross’s bad luck. “I was there for two weeks, and then I got an email from the Swedish government saying I had two days to leave the country,” Ross said.
Returning to Denmark he was housed by friends of the Bible school and registered himself at the Swedish embassy, proving he was no longer in Sweden. After a week in Denmark Ross finally received his visa and was able to return to the school.
A year later, Ross doesn’t look back on his time at school changing him at one specific moment. Instead, it was a gradual process. At first he walked around with earbuds in, but soon he began to make friends with his classmates, and their demeanor were what changed him. “I saw what living the Christian life really should be and how happy everyone else was,” Ross said. “And I wanted to be happy like everyone else was.”
“He’s a Swede at heart, having spent a year abroad and loving every minute of it” said Ross’s roommate freshman Calvin Heilpe.
After further prodding from his mother and sister, Ross applied to PHC and was accepted where he is now pursuing a degree in journalism. While he isn’t sure where this will take him he knows he wants to be in some ministry. “I really want to work overseas.” Ross said, “I have a really deep passion for working in South East Europe.”
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