Leading in Faith, On and Off the Football Field
Issue   |   Thu, 05/19/2016 - 19:44
Chris Gow '16
“I love my teammates and it was an honor to be a captain. It’s the thing that these guys care most about, so for them to elect you...it is a real honor,” said Gow on the importance of leading on the field.

A captain of the football team and a leader Amherst’s Christian Fellowship, Chris Gow fulfills his roles with a combination of purposeful direction and easy charisma. In addition to being a natural leader, he has sought academic challenges, double majoring in religion and mathematics. His dedication to playing passionately, learning deeply and serving wholeheartedly is clear to the many whom Gow has influenced in some way.

Team Player
Gow comes from a family of seven in Houston, with three brothers and a sister. Faith was a regular part of Gow’s life starting from his childhood with church attendance, and he bonded with his father and brothers through playing football in their yard.
Starting from his elementary years, Gow’s favorite classes were math and science, owing in part to a close relationship he had with his science teacher. Those early experiences and exposures to “experiments” and “blowing stuff up” set him on a more quantitative academic path.
Another major part of his life, football, officially began in second grade. He then added lacrosse and basketball in middle school. He captained his high school’s football and lacrosse teams, and the experience of playing and winning as part of a team was integral to Gow’s social life growing up.
“I’ve always loved the team element,” Gow said. “That’s why I play sports — it’s for my teammates and the relationships that you can build.”
Gow knew about Amherst early in his application process because his father had attended Williams, and applied Early Decision to Amherst. Football and academics were both important factors to him when he decided upon Amherst. “The best combination of athletics and academics” here stood out to him. He also liked the “thriving metropolis of Amherst” — at least as compared to Williams.

A Two-Track Mind
During the fall of his first year at Amherst, Gow explored a variety of departments and took a religion course that influenced his path, American Religious Thought: From Edwards to Emerson — and Beyond, taught by professor David Wills.
“I loved the small classroom vibe, and I was just going with what I liked: theology,” he said.
As more semesters passed, Gow explored Christian theology and biblical writings in close detail like never before, especially with religion professors Robert Doran and Susan Niditch, whom he described as “the most intellectually high-powered biblical scholars.”
Just as Gow found his professors to be formative for his religious studies on campus, they found Gow to be an important presence in their classes.
“His lively curiosity and thoughtful questions have often made me think in new ways about the Hebrew Bible, its cultural context and wider implications,” Niditch wrote about Gow. “Those are exciting class moments for the teacher.”
While religion interested Gow more than mathematics, he majored in mathematics to challenge himself. He took math, a subject he had always enjoyed, during his first year. His adviser, math professor Danielle Benedetto, encouraged him to take more courses, and Gow decided to pursue a math major after taking discrete math and linear algebra with professor Robert Benedetto, who described him as looking “like the stereotypical popular football star” but with a “math geek streak.”
“I assigned a problem which amounted to working out the odds of a given outcome in one of the simpler dice rolls that can arise in the board game RISK,” Benedetto said. “Chris apparently got interested in the problem and, just for kicks and with no input from me, worked out the odds for a couple of more complicated dice rolls ... and that’s above and beyond his meticulous and organized work all through both of my classes.”
Gow said that because math was challenging, it brought together fellow students into study groups through which they benefited from teamwork.
“One of the things I love about math is that you have to go through every thought with the person who wrote the proof,” he said. “To do math with someone else is literally to think the same thoughts as them for a while. It builds strong friendships, oddly.”

A Passionate Captain
While Gow grew as a mathematician and religious thinker, he also developed into a stronger player on the field.
As with most varsity athletes at Amherst, Gow had trained and practiced with the football team since before the first day of classes as a first-year student. Initially, he admitted, getting used to football was difficult for him, especially combined with the general struggles of academics and fitting in socially.
“I didn’t know anyone and I also wasn’t great friends with the guys on the team yet,” Gow said about his earliest days here. “It didn’t help that I didn’t do well in football — I think almost everyone who comes here and does sports was probably the best in their high school team, and then you come here and you’re not the best anymore — which happens academically, too.”
With time, the alien feelings faded and he cultivated closer relationships with his teammates during his sophomore year. He also took on a larger role within the team. The combination of deep friendships with his teammates and being acknowledged as an important contributor on the field restored his joy in playing football, which had been missing since he left high school. He continued to contribute more to the team throughout his junior year as a defensive player, and his hard work cumulated in being elected to the role of team captain for his senior year.
“I love my teammates and it was an honor to be a captain,” Gow said. “It’s the thing that these guys care the most about, so for them to elect you to be in charge of it is a real honor.”
The pressure to perform well was on for Gow’s final year at Amherst , since the football team had won every single game the previous year. The squad went undefeated again in 2015, making them the first football team in the college’s history to campaign for two consecutive undefeated seasons. Gow atributed much of this success to the team’s skill and preparation, especially in the offseason.
Gow tore his ACL during the second-to-last game of the season, marking the end of his football career.
“It was harder not to be able to suit up with my teammates for the last game,” he said. “But it was awesome — it didn’t really matter that I couldn’t play, I was just excited that we could finish the season strong.”

Leading in Faith
Off the field, Gow also leads Amherst Christian Fellowship, which was just a fledgling group of a few students when he arrived on campus. But, however small, the group provided “an outlet or a sense of community” for Gow, who “felt alone in a lot of ways” without it.
During his sophomore year, Gow watched the fellowship swell in size, due in large part to the incoming first-year class. It was then that he fostered close relationships within the community and began serving and guiding the fellowship more seriously. Similar to football, he assumed greater responsibilities within the fellowship in his junior year, which grew into a more defined leadership role. After football season ended during his senior year, he focused his energy on the fellowship, often leading Bible studies and weekly meetings.
Gow, who had been considering a career in finance, interned with JP Morgan in New York during the summer before his senior year. “Wise people, they say, don’t turn that down,” he said, adding that he enjoyed the work and all that he learned about economics from it. However, when offered a position with JP Morgan post-graduation, Gow decided not to accept it.
“For me, there’s nothing more joyful than to be serving God in Christian community,” he said. “The end goal for me was always to be serving in ministry in a full-time capacity, so once I determined that, I decided that I was going to chase that passion full-time.”
Instead of choosing the more conventional route of working on Wall Street, Gow began to investigate careers in ministry and academic Christian theology.

New Beginnings
During his time at Amherst, Gow has been unusually willing to push the boundaries of his intellectual comfort zone, embracing the challenge of taking difficult math classes and having his ideas challenged by his professors.
“I think that intellectual tension creates growth like nothing else does,” Gow said. “So that’s my biggest takeaway.”
In the coming fall semester, Gow will be returning to the Amherst campus, this time as an adviser. He will be working for InterVarsity USA, a nationwide Christian campus ministry that has chapters in many colleges, each run by a staff member. He will be the staff member in charge of Amherst’s chapter for the next few years.
Joining him will be Katie Burdine, Gow’s fiancée, on staff for UMass Amherst. The two have been dating since middle school, were engaged in the fall two weeks after Amherst’s homecoming football game against Wesleyan and will marry in July.
“At the time when we got engaged, neither of us had a job,” Gow said. “We just decided, whatever it is, let’s just decide to be together, no matter what, and then we’ll do life.”