JACKSON, Tenn. – Nov. 16, 2006 – Soccer was Nikki Burau’s life. God was way down the list of priorities.
But that changed about a year ago. A brain tumor will do that to you.
“My time in the hospital is when I really started realizing how real that God was and how much He did for me,” said Burau, a sophomore at Union University and forward on the women’s soccer team. “That’s when I really grew with Him.”
A native of Memphis, Burau didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Her mother was a single parent.
Burau started playing soccer when she was 8 years old, and that became everything to her. All that mattered was getting a soccer scholarship, and Union University gave her that opportunity.
“I didn’t even own a Bible when I came here,” she said.
During her first year on the team, Burau started to develop some leg problems. She was diagnosed with compartment syndrome, and after the season had leg surgery.
Throughout the ordeal, her teammates began planting seeds in Burau’s life.
“You need to start finding God,” they’d tell her.
Burau thought about it, but then she recovered from her surgery and decided she really didn’t need God that much after all. She thought she was healthy and that soccer would again be her priority.
She was wrong.
Shortly after her leg surgery, Burau started getting headaches, almost every night. They became more and more debilitating. Finally, they landed her in the hospital, where a CAT scan revealed a golf ball-sized tumor embedded in the right side of Burau’s brain. She had surgery on Christmas Eve last year to get it removed.
Doctors warned her mother that Burau would be paralyzed on her left side. They said her personality would change.
They were wrong.
A surgery that was supposed to last seven hours took only three. A recovery that was supposed to take months took only weeks.
Burau wasn’t supposed to be able to run until August. But she came back to school for the spring semester, started practicing with the team in February and played the whole spring season.
“The doctors still scratch their heads and don’t understand,” she said.
Along with her physical recovery came a spiritual one as well. Whereas soccer was the driving force in her life before, now she has relinquished that role to the Lord.
“I’m just living for a different purpose,” Burau said. “Everything in my life is ‘How can I do it for God?’ more than for myself.”
A marketing major, Burau hopes one day to open an indoor non-profit soccer facility in Memphis. She’ll run that part of the time, and spend the rest of her time on the mission field. She may even use soccer as a means of telling others her story, in hopes that they might be changed the way she has been.
“I know now that time is very valuable,” Burau said. “We take for granted so much. I was so close to losing everything I’d worked hard for. I realized that I have to do things while I can do them -- because I may wake up tomorrow and not be able to do them again.”