“Don’t waste your time during college; when you find your passion – just do it. You can’t get your four years of college back.”
When Kaitlin came to UNH as an undergraduate, she would never have guessed she would be the head coach of a sled hockey team for youth with disabilities. In her junior year, Kaitlin signed up for an internship with Northeast Passage through her therapeutic recreation major. Northeast Passage delivers disability-related health promotion and adapted sports programs throughout New England. Having grown up in a huge hockey family, playing pond hockey her whole life, watching her many cousins play hockey, and being an athlete herself, she has had lots of experience with the game. As the coach, Kaitlin will jump in a sled herself on occasion. This by far is one of the most physically challenging things she has ever done. The day after her first practice in a sled, her arms hurt so much she couldn’t reach to put her hair in a ponytail.
Trace back: how did Kaitlin construct her path at UNH? It first began with her decision to attend UNH with an undeclared major in the College of Liberal Arts. She knew she wanted to go to a Division I hockey school, and she loved the UNH campus. She talked to many people during her search for a major and at first decided that she wanted to try and get into the Occupational Therapy Program. Soon after, she learned how difficult it is to transfer into the program. She was feeling completely discouraged and on the verge of transferring, when her advisor suggested she learn more about the Therapeutic Recreation major. She talked with a friend in the Therapeutic Recreation Program who told her it is similar to OT, but a thousand times more fun. She took her first class with Professor Janet Sable spring of her sophomore year and was hooked.
She felt at home and affirmed in the Therapeutic Recreation major. She noticed that there was a great deal of built-in trust between the professors and the students; it was an environment she had not yet experienced at UNH.
Kaitlin considers herself a good worker. She started working at fifteen because she had a desire to earn her own spending money and be as responsible as much as she could for herself. She has worked in restaurants ever since she was sixteen and took a job at Libby’s her second year at UNH. Kaitlin is still working at Libby’s as a fifth year senior. She balances her time between work, classes, and playing on every possible intramural team she can fit in her schedule. At first her time with the youth sled hockey team was volunteer work, then it turned into a paying job when Tom Carr approached her to be the head coach. She knows she does best when she is given a lot of responsibility. Knowing that Tom had the faith in her to give her this job was, “the best feeling in the world”.
In May, Kaitlin will be off to do her internship at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia, a very prestigious rehabilitation hospital, working with people who have spinal cord injuries. Kaitlin applied on a whim thinking she would never get accepted to work at what she knows to be the “Harvard of rehabilitation hospitals”. As she finalized the application, she found herself laughing at what she thought was the ridiculousness of her chances.
While Kaitlin had a bit of a rocky start trying to find the right major, she found her place and has never looked back. Perhaps the fact that Kaitlin had already weathered challenges before attending UNH, prepared her to forge through. Kaitlin’s mom passed away from intestinal melanoma when she was 14 years old. She was a physical therapist and according to Kaitlin, threw herself one hundred percent into everything she did. From all counts, Kaitlin does the same.
In honor of her mother and her memory, Kaitlin’s family started the Helen King Memorial Golf Tournament soon after she passed away. Each year, they raise money for a non-profit they think most connects with her mother’s convictions. This past summer, they raised funds for Northeast Passage and had two teams of adaptive golfers participate in the tournament. For Kaitlin, this brought together many of her passions in one moment: her mom’s memory, her family, and her desire to support free access to adaptive sports for people with disabilities.
Kaitlin’s dream is to eventually work for the Paralympics. These games, for people with physical disabilities, are held two weeks after the Olympics in the same venue. She holds on to her mom’s words “just do it” in all that she does; there is no holding back.