Alumna Follows Her Football Dreams

Grace Cooper ’16 shares how trying out for the Minnesota Vixen was the first step in attaining her football dreams.

By Katie Johnson ’19, student writer

May 15, 2019 | 4 p.m.

Cooper Close Running

Photo by: Thor Hansen

Grace Cooper’s childhood was a scene straight from The Sandlot. Though, instead of baseball, she played football with her brothers and a group of neighborhood boys in her front yard, and instead of visions from Babe Ruth, she learned about the sport from her dad. Flash forward 15 years, and the 2016 athletic training graduate is one of the starting running backs for the Minnesota Vixen—a professional women’s football team based in Minneapolis.  

For her major, Cooper worked with the Bethel football team and fell in love with the team’s culture and atmosphere. When she read an article about Bethel alumna Kiersten Hansen ’10 playing for the Vixen, she understood that her dreams could become reality. She just first had to try out for the team.

The Vixen held tryouts on Saturdays in October 2016, and players had to show their skills through kicking and throwing drills, bench presses, leg presses, a 40-yard-sprint, 120-yard-shuttle-run, and running a pass gauntlet like they do at the NFL combine. “At that tryout the head coach at the time asked what my sport background was and how I had gotten my combination of speed and power,” Cooper says. “All the efforts of our team coaches and the strength coaches at Bethel paid off, not only at Bethel but also in the coming years.” Cooper had been part of the track team at Bethel, which helped enhance her endurance both physically and spiritually.

Cooper Running Solo

The work paid off: Cooper received an email in January 2017 informing her that she had made the team. But Cooper hurt her leg that March. She played with an injured knee until August 2018, when she realized that her injury might be worth a doctor’s visit. She had torn her ACL without realizing it, and she had surgery on her knee a month later. She continues the difficult motions of rehab over the offseason. “Playing through that injury and then rehabbing it has been the most difficult thing I have ever had to do,” Cooper says. “But being at Bethel was four years of constant saturation in the knowledge that there is a Being stronger than me and that my life is in God's hands. All of those lessons, chapel sermons, and talks with professors gave me the tools I needed to be able to overcome this time of life.” 

One of the benefits of Bethel was the community she cultivated—that she wasn’t alone in the constant saturation of her educational experience. As she prepared to graduate in 2016, Cooper was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to find a similar community. Then she established herself as part of the Vixen. “The team has between 55 to 65 people on it and every single one of them is a sister,” Cooper says. “I never could have imagined finding so many wonderful friends—and these teammates blow my mind every single day with their generosity, love, and fiery passion for our sport.”

Cooper Running Player

Photo by: Thor Hansen

That fiery passion infuses everything Cooper sets her mind to, especially during the games and each play that functions exactly according to plan—as well as each play that doesn’t. During one particular play, Cooper caught the ball, and as she ran her route, she dropped it. However, the ball bounced immediately back into her hands before anyone noticed, and since the refs didn’t blow the whistle to call the play dead, Cooper kept going. She ran 75 yards for a touchdown, though the fact that the play happened at all was itself a victory. Her coaches had always told her to run until someone blew a whistle, and that play proved their point perfectly. “I think it's a great life lesson, to never stop until the play is over. Whatever you're doing, do it until it is absolutely finished,” Cooper says.

Another life lesson she has discovered through her experience with the Vixen is to always try out for the team—or whatever someone’s dream is. “Trying out for the football team was the scariest thing I've ever done but I knew I wanted it more than anything, and that's what you have to remember,” Cooper explains. “How much you want your dream will always outweigh your fears, and you will never regret going for it.”

Learn More about Bethel Athletics

Whether you want to know who’s on the women’s soccer team, how to livestream the next tennis match, or when tryouts are for the following season, is the link for you.