For a time, Iver McDonald was superhuman. Well, not really. But at least she felt that way. That’s what can happen when you’re young and brash and enter high school as an elite softball player good enough to make the varsity as a freshman.
“I had this horrible attitude,” she said. “I thought I was the stuff in softball—like I walked on water. I thought I was invincible, that nothing could touch me.”
But things weren’t going so well in her personal life. Despite the fact that she had a loving mother and two older, supportive sisters, her parents’ separation gnawed at her. She struggled to cope with her father’s sporadic involvement in her life. Her frustration seeped into her life at Houston’s J. Frank Dobie High School, where she got into some trouble.
What kind of trouble isn’t as important as the one night McDonald tagged along with one of her sisters, Sharonda, to an FCA meeting. It was a landmark moment. She loved the community and warmth she
experienced. She was intrigued by the Scripture she heard—the same Scripture that she had flippantly disregarded during her intermittent church attendance earlier in life.
That summer, FCA decided to sponsor one J. Frank Dobie athlete for its leadership camp at Texas A&M University. In a high school of 3,000 students and an FCA gathering of roughly 100, McDonald got the call.
Her life has never been the same.
“Is this really for you?”
The words were sharp and uncomfortable, meant to pierce through the façade that a coach of Patty Gasso’s experience can easily detect. It was October 2006, McDonald’s freshman year at the University of Oklahoma, and she had just gotten lost during a team-building exercise.
Every fall, Gasso, the 14-year softball coach of the perennially strong Sooners, splits her team into groups to compete in an on-campus triathlon. It’s a big deal to the players. So when McDonald’s swimming teammate emerged from the pool—in first place—McDonald quickly jumped on her bike and sped off. Only she had failed to memorize the course map as instructed earlier.
Helplessly lost, she eventually came across Gasso, who was sitting in a golf cart keeping track of the competition. Gasso was hot, and McDonald’s team was fuming. The coach followed behind McDonald as she sheepishly made her way back. It was not a fun ride.
“I just got ripped the whole way,” McDonald said. “We laugh about it now, but at the time, it was not very funny.”
It wasn’t an isolated incident. McDonald often dogged it in workouts and mentally checked out of various team activities.
“If we were doing conditioning and someone was struggling, it was always Iver,” Gasso said. “She didn’t have the mental toughness. It was frustrating because she was really holding back. Her teammates were frustrated.”
When spring rolled around, McDonald was too far behind in her development for Gasso to use her significantly. She was reduced to a pinch-running role and only got eight at-bats all season. Still, she managed to show off her talent and speed, scoring 24 runs and stealing 13 bases in 45 games.
“Once she realized her relationship with Christ wasn’t an off-the-field thing, that’s when her game really started coming together.” — FCA’s Sarah Roberts
“I didn’t know if I wanted to play softball,” McDonald said.
She had come to college seemingly with everything going for her. She was bright, ultra-talented and came from a great softball family—both her sisters also played Division I ball. But on the inside, there was plenty of work to do.
The college adjustment was a big struggle. She was 450 miles away from home. Life away from her family was difficult. So was the ongoing healing process with her father. And balancing the demands of being a Division I athlete felt like juggling bowling balls.
“I felt like everything was hitting me at once,” McDonald said. “I was out of my comfort zone. I just struggled—with my workouts, my faith, and opening up and letting people in.”
The walls of self-reliance had first started to crack four years earlier. She had arrived at FCA’s Texas A&M leadership camp before her sophomore year of high school feeling overwhelmed yet excited. The camp’s theme was “An Audience of One,” and at chapel one night, the speaker built a cross out of wood while sharing the gospel message.
“Automatically, I wept and laid my life down,” McDonald said. “It was awesome. I knew that I could play softball and play for the Lord. It really caught on to me that I could give God every pitch, every at-bat.”
But McDonald wasn’t willing to give up 100 percent of everything to God just yet, and the result was “like I was living this lie, this mediocre life,” she said. She carried that baggage into her freshman year
at Oklahoma, where it all came to a head.
Hometown: Houston, Texas
“I think she was trying to find out who she was as a person, and it was hurting her as a softball player,” said Sarah Roberts, FCA’s women’s ministry director for the state of Oklahoma. “She had to find out who she was in Christ, who she was as a person. Once she realized her relationship with Christ wasn’t an off-the-field thing, that’s when her game really started coming together.”
The transformation process culminated with McDonald’s second FCA Camp experience last June at Baylor University, where she worked as a Huddle Leader. Partial devotion to Christ was replaced with a full immersion into her faith.
“I had eight girls,” she said. “Two of them were already saved when we started. By the time I left, all eight had given their lives to Christ. I thought to myself, ‘Look at what God did when I didn’t give Him all my life. How much more would He do if I gave my whole life to Him?’”
When she returned to Norman late last summer, the change was starkly evident.
“She’s a completely new, rejuvenated and grounded person,” Gasso said.
The collective shock felt like an anvil dropping from the sky. How could this happen?
On Feb. 7, Gasso and the Sooners were at the airport preparing to fly to Los Angeles for a season-opening tournament. Before boarding, Gasso received some horrible news: One of the team’s biggest fans, and the co-president of its booster club, had just committed suicide.
Without hesitation, McDonald took control. She gathered her teammates together and prayed for the man’s family and the team. The irony of the moment was not lost on Gasso. The same girl who alienated herself from her teammates a year earlier was now rallying them together in the midst of tragedy.
“She really captured the hearts of kids on the team that I never imagined she could touch that way,” Gasso said.
McDonald’s inward change has produced much outward fruit. She now serves on the Oklahoma FCA leadership team, faithfully attends Roberts’ softball Bible studies and leads her own Bible study at her off-campus apartment. According to Roberts, the OU Huddle is “the best it has ever been,” averaging 50 to 75 attendees.
McDonald’s Bible study has enjoyed great success, too. Three-fourths of her teammates typically attend.
“It’s amazing what God is doing,” she said. “People are really questioning what their lives are all about. We’ve got a good thing going here.”
McDonald, center with FCA friends at OU. For more on FCA in Oklahoma, visit okfca.org.
McDonald’s athletic strides have paralleled her spiritual progress. She opened this season as a part-time starter, shuttling between center field and right field and batting leadoff or second in the lineup. The speed she produces from her 5-foot-3 frame makes her a dangerous weapon as a left-handed slap hitter.
“She has definitely come a long way,” Gasso said.
This summer, McDonald will be returning to the Texas A&M FCA Camp and will likely attend the camp at Baylor as well.
“I’m so excited because I know what camp did for me and how much it changed me,” she said.
It’s a change that she is actively sharing with others.
“She is definitely the spiritual leader on that softball team,” Roberts said. “What’s great about Iver is that she struggles, but she is not ashamed to say, ‘I struggle in my Christian walk, but Christ is still the center of it.’ She is real with the girls, and that’s why she is such a leader on that team.”
, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
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Photos courtesy of Jerry Laizure