As a basketball player, Sydney Benson was good enough to make a difference.
She led her Snohomish High School team to the Class 4A state championship game in 2004-05, and then played three seasons at Eastern Washington University and a fourth season at Seattle Pacific University.
Though now retired from basketball, Benson is still looking to make a difference.
The 26-year-old Benson, who has traveled extensively in recent years — including living most of the past two years in Russia — has taken a job with a non-profit organization known as FEED-DS, an acronym for the Federation of Education and Entrepreneurial Development with Dignity and Sustainability. The FEED-DS team, led by president John Stewart of Snohomish, is tasked with improving health issues and medical awareness in developing countries.
“We kind of say (the organization’s mission statement) through a proverb,” said Benson, who is spending a few weeks this summer back in Snohomish. “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. … If we can inspire individuals who can then teach others, those communities will become even more modern.”
The chance to serve other people is, as Benson puts it, “one of my love languages.” And the chance to do it internationally allows her to enjoy another of her passions — foreign languages. She was a French major at SPU with a minor in Russian, and after college she decided to seek work in one of those countries.
She was hoping for France, but it turned out there were more opportunities in Russia. She has lived in Moscow the past two years, first teaching English to adults and children in a language school, and then teaching English to kids in a preschool.
She was approached in recent months about working with FEED-DS, and was drawn to the organization’s stated goal of helping people. “I definitely feel that the Lord wants me to do something like this,” said Benson, a committed Christian. “And I think He needs me doing something like this.”
She will return to Russia later this summer where she will represent FEED-DS and also work as a governess for a family she came to know in the last year.
Benson occasionally thinks about basketball, which was once “a big part of my identity.” As a high school senior, she led a powerful Snohomish team to the state championship game against Garfield. In a thrilling yet ultimately heart-breaking outcome for Snohomish, Garfield ended up with a 63-58 overtime victory, despite 20 points and 14 rebounds from Benson.
By then she had accepted a full scholarship offer to attend Eastern Washington, an NCAA Division I school in Cheney. She spent the next three seasons playing for the Eagles, but left after her junior year in part because of a painful back injury. The injury, thought to be a back strain, was later diagnosed as a stress fracture and bulging disk, and Benson ended up sitting out the 2008-09 season.
In her final season at SPU in 2009-10, she expected to play with her younger sister Katie, a 2009 Snohomish graduate. Unfortunately, Katie Benson tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason and missed that year. Sydney Benson’s disappointment at not being able to play with her sister was compounded by a similar injury she suffered later in the season.
Like sisters who share everything, “we now have matching scars,” Sydney Benson said with a laugh.
After finishing her career at SPU, Benson decided she was finished with organized basketball, though she still occasionally plays for fun.
“My homesickness for basketball, if you want to call it that, comes and goes occasionally,” she admitted. “The No. 1 thing I miss is shooting in the morning. In college I always had to find someone who had a key to the gym because I loved shooting in an empty gym with the smell of the wood and the feel of the ball. I miss that a lot.”
Otherwise, she is content to go forward with a life that is unfolding in ways she barely could have imagined back in high school.
“(Mission work) gives me opportunities to connect with amazing people all over the world,” she said, “and those are experiences I could never have if I just stayed (in the Puget Sound area) or even if I got an office job. I decided over the course of my two years in Russia that I want to use the talents and the passions I have to connect with people. And this gives me an opportunity to do that.”
Though she still considers herself “a Snohomish girl, a small-town girl,” Benson has plans to visit Finland, Togo and perhaps Ghana in the coming year, all for her work with FEED-DS.
“I have a passion for languages, I love to travel and go to obscure places, and I think God can use my craziness (in the mission field),” she said, laughing again.
Recalling a conversation with her father, who asked a few years ago what she wanted out of life, “I told him, ‘I want an adventure.’ And it’s been that,” Benson said. “It’s been quite an adventure.”