Hannah Johnson, a standout MIAC basketball player, was selected to travel to Brazil over the summer with a national team.
Hannah Johnson saw the email in the Eagle Brook Church parking lot after a Sunday morning service.
Her parents were unpacking boxes at a food drive, but when they got the phone call her dad drove home right away — he couldn’t wait to congratulate his daughter.
Fast-forward six months, and she was on a delayed flight out of Orlando with a team of 18 strangers from across the country.
Johnson, a junior nursing major and standout forward for the Bethel University women’s basketball team, took an 11-day trip to Brazil this past July with the Division-III men’s and women’s USA basketball team — an invitation that is only offered to a handful of athletes each year. She’ll carry on the legacy as the sixth Bethel University basketball player to join the USA team in Brazil.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Johnson said. “I thought it was such a great opportunity to travel because I don’t have the option of studying abroad.”
The USA team stepped off their plane after spending a night at Orlando Airport to play a professional team from Araraquara, Brazil. Then, they took an eight-hour bus ride to Rio de Janeiro, where they played teams from Mesquita, Queimados and Flumenese University. USA went 3-1, only losing the first game.
And because of the overnight airport stay and a long plane ride, Johnson felt way closer to her team than she should have. So they laughed a lot more than they should have. Which is why she didn’t talk much about the basketball portion. There was too much action outside of the game.
Like losing a USA team bag to a pickpocketer on Copacabana Beach and spotting a shrimp vender who was sporting the stolen bag the next day. The men’s USA team argued with the man for an hour — signing and pointing because he couldn’t speak English — before he finally gave it back.
Like taking gondolas up to Sugarloaf Mountain.
Like having to travel through downtown Rio in groups of four with at least one man, because Americans are perfect bait for some Brazilians — easy to distract and pickpocket. Or seeing the living conditions: houses that looked like sheds, stacked on top of each other like a Jenga game. Or visiting the Christ the Redeemer statue.
But the best part, Johnson said, was giving away socks.
“Everybody wanted USA gear,” she said. “And for some reason everyone was crazy about socks.”
So after games, she’d take pictures with kids and give them USA socks or a Bethel University t-shirt.
The trip of a lifetime, she said, and on top of the new places she saw, she gained 18 friends. They still talk to each other every day.
Not a bad deal. Not at all.
Bethel women’s basketball coach Jon Herbrechtsmeyer expects Johnson to be a contributing leader this season, even though she’s only a junior.
“It would surprise me if she wasn’t our leading rebounders and one of our leading scorers,” he said.