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Words by Bailey Martens

This article provides information on mental health which may be triggering to some readers. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, make an appointment with the TWU wellness centre or call 310-6789 anytime for support and access to resources.

As a senior in high school, Aaron Boettcher volunteered with his younger brother Andrew Boettcher and his Challenger baseball team. Aaron was placed with a young man who had a difficult time walking.

“I remember watching (Aaron) take this man around the bases,” says Boettcher’s mom, Alison. “He held his arm and supported him and Aaron did not bat an eye.”

Boettcher is a starting middle on the Trinity Western University men’s volleyball team – and a really good one at that. Over the course of his career, he has averaged 1.26 blocks per set and 1.34 kills per set and there is no doubt Boettcher, who hails from Surrey, B.C. and is in his fourth year of U SPORTS eligibility, has the potential to enjoy a professional volleyball career after his graduation.

However, he has his eyes set closer to home on a future that doesn’t involve professional volleyball at all.

Despite growing up as a middle child in a large family, Boettcher often held the spotlight. Alison says he was the quirky kid could sweet talk anyone. Everyone loved Aaron.

But for the tight knit Boettcher family, the glue that held it all together a strong faith and Andrew. The youngest of the four children in the Boettcher clan, Andrew was born with an extremely rare genetic condition effecting his CNKSR2 gene. This caused profound physical and cognitive impairments, which were predicted to result in a significantly shortened life expectancy. Today, Andrew is thriving as a 20-year-old high school graduate while volunteering his time at the local library and recycling depot.

Like Andrew, Aaron was a sports nut as a kid. He dabbled in both volleyball and basketball in early high school and actually preferred basketball early on. However, given his admission that he’s “really skinny and (doesn’t) like contact,” coupled with a confidence boost from an influential coach, a teenaged Boettcher decided to pursue volleyball more seriously.

Time on local club teams quickly gained Boettcher the attention of collegiate programs. Despite multiple offers, Boettcher committed to be a Spartan as soon as he could. He was not only looking to grow in his sport, but within his faith life as well. TWU offered both of these components.

“That choice has benefited me in so many different ways,” Boettcher says.

However, those benefits have not come without trial. Upon arriving at TWU, Boettcher struggled significantly adjusting to a new home, both on and off the court.

Prior to TWU, Boettcher excelled socially, academically, as well as athletically. “Everything came very easy,” Alison says. It was a wakeup call to the first year to be at the bottom of the volleyball ladder. While Boettcher did have the unique opportunity to play early on at TWU, as a result of teammates’ injuries, he was far from the star player he was used to.

Boettcher’s mother recalls how shaken his identity was at that time. A loss of self-identity led to a decline in mental health. Within his first year, Boettcher struggled with depression, to the point of suicidal ideation, as well as a continued battle with anxiety. “This was a spiritual low,” Boettcher says. That year, he failed a significant number of classes. The academic struggles allowed for Boettcher to share the extent of his battle with his parents, coaches and teammates. “This was ultimately the best thing,” he says. “It’s so easy not to tell anybody and just continue down a slippery slope.”

However, it was through his internal struggles that Boettcher’s vocational goals shifted away from allure of professional volleyball. Rather, the star Spartan wants to join the helping profession. As a psychology major, he is hoping to become a counsellor and help others like him.

As a kid, Boettcher was a ball of energy with a goofy bent, but things began to change for the youngster when he attended a mission’s trip to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The impact on Boettcher was noticeable. It was at this time when his mom says “Aaron began to show care for other people, especially those who were marginalized.”

In recent years, Boettcher has walked with TWU’s men’s volleyball team in the way he once walked with the Challenger baseball player around the bases. He has held them and walked alongside them, while never thinking twice about it.

Fourth-year teammate Pearce Eshenko, who is a fellow middle with the Spartans, says he’s noticed a distinct change in Boettcher’s mindset over his time at TWU. “He’s really focused on the team and building relationships with the guys,” says Eshenko. “(And) in a way that makes his game better.”

In the midst of anxiety, Boettcher has become one of the “glue guys” that keeps the team composed and light. Now, Boettcher actually sees himself in his younger teammates. He has come from a point of being extremely self-critical to a place where he can encourage others.

“It will be really noticeable when he is no longer on the team,” Eshenko says. “He drives the team culture.”

For now, the veteran Boettcher is focused on “being able to step back and capture memories so [he] can remember it well.”

And while his off-the-court perspective and leadership have come to the forefront in recent years, he still remains a monster on the court. Boettcher currently sits third in Canada West with 1.26 blocks per set. It’s in this moment, with his focus largely on serving others, that he’s actually playing some of the best volleyball of his career.

And while his volleyball aspirations no longer extend beyond TWU, he still does have one more volleyball goal.

He kind of laughs.

Yea, for sure, he’d still like to win another national championship.