UW Health Sports Medicine 

Packer's Perspective: The Badgers Behind the Masks

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Hey Badger fans! Today's post is a little different. Usually, I bring to you the upcoming anticipation of games, post game reactions, and the activities we are involved in daily throughout the community. Although this post will include some of our daily interactions in the community, it is more of a story. The story behind the Wisconsin women's hockey team, and the backgrounds that bring this group together to create a family that is stronger than any obstacle we face together. 

This story does not start in any specific location, it has no general direction, and most of the quotes and information will remain anonymous out of respect for the privacy of my teammates, although at times, some individuals are named. The purpose of this story is to show the fans of the Wisconsin women's hockey team that the individuals who make up this nationally ranked program, are not all that different from anyone else in the community. We show up to the rink each day, leave our lives at the door, and for three hours we interact as athletes; however, when the lights dim and we change back into our street clothes, my teammates and I venture back out into the real world, and face realities that are often hard to cope with. Through the spotlighting of my team in this blog, I will work to show that the talents of my teammates on the ice are far less impressive than their courage in the outside world, and that if the phenomenal athletes I suit up next to each day can use their setbacks to propel them to success, perhaps we can inspire our followers and fans can do the same.

Injuries are a setback in any environment. People are injured in the work force, in daily activity, and like many athletes on the team, in athletic competition. Fans often see players get hurt. They read about injury reports, or see a player walking around with a cast or bag of ice; however, what the fans do not see is the hard work and mental determination it takes for these players to get back on the ice. Ranging from broken bones, to stitches, to major reconstructive surgeries, the Badgers are made up of relentless women who dedicate their lives to a sport they are passionate about. 

"You can never ask why me. Once you start asking yourself that and weighing through all the possibilities, that is time wasted that you could have used to get better and get back with the team." 

One player that stands out for her battle with injuries is senior defenseman Stef McKeough. Many have read her story and know that Stef has been sidelined because of a concussion, but my focus is not on her injury. My focus is on Stef as a teammate, and as a compassionate individual who has had her athletic career halted because of a devastating injury, yet shows up for every home game to support her team. She spends hours and hours a day each week in the training room. Hours of work that people never see to try and get back to where she once was and to try to continue living life as a normal college student. 

As a former roommate, and current teammate of Stef McKeough, I can honestly say I have never met a more selfless individual. I watched her battle with her injury last year, and I think that is one of the toughest things I have had to stand by and watch a teammate go through. Someone so passionate and caring for others, with no control over what was going on in her own life. Through her struggles, I learned that the outlook on a situation is everything, and it was incredible to see someone in such a negative spot maintain such a positive composure for those around her. She has taught me, and our entire team, the true meaning of being a good teammate. Her passion for the game of hockey was always obvious, but long after being stuck in the bleachers, she continues to give back and support her team no matter what the circumstance. 

Stef is a member of the Wisconsin team that does not suit up with us on a daily basis, but gives back in an invaluable way with her support and constant encouragement. She always pats us on the back on the way to the ice, and is always giving insight between periods. She follows the team on the road, and offers positive feedback when we find ourselves frustrated. Stef McKeough is the unsung hero within our locker room, a teammate who receives little credit for the unrecognized support she provides. Like Stef, numerous of my teammates have had surgeries and injuries that have left them out for any given period of time. 

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The hours these ladies put in to get healthy are moments no fan ever sees, but are of utmost importance when describing the character and commitment that makes up a large chunk of the team's overall personality. In the four years that I have been at Wisconsin I have had my fair share of injuries, and had to rehab to battle my way back into the lineup, but none of these injuries compare to some of the battles I have watched my teammates fight in their own lives away from the rink.

Another area of life discovered when talking with my teammates and getting to know them over the years is something I will call personal hardship. In the words of one of my teammates: "I consider myself really lucky. There are going to be obstacles in your life and you have to overcome them. God has a plan for all of us". 

The personal hardship category is not to put our team in a negative spotlight or for fans to get the idea that this team is composed of a group of misfortunate and heartbroken women; but rather to point out to our fans the fact that this is a team of renowned athletes who work just as hard off the ice as they do on it in order to be the presentable and well rounded women they are today. 

"Being surrounded by such a great group of people everyday is a blessing and makes you realize how special what we have here is." 

The support system our team provides one another is something that words cannot describe. To have 24 people within two miles of you who will be there at any hour of the day for any given reason is something so rare and we are all lucky and blessed to have such compassionate individuals who put others before themselves. 

In fifth grade, a current Badger found out her mother had been diagnosed with cancer, only to learn two weeks later that her father had been diagnosed as well. 

"It was extremely difficult at the time, you learn not to complain about the little things and to value opportunities afforded to you. It's difficult to see other teammates go through it with their families. I think about it daily especially because it's so common, you hear about it more often, but also just because it affected me so heavily at such a young age." 

At age 15, another teammate lost her mother after a 17-month battle with cancer. 

"It sucked, I don't think at any point in your life losing a family member is ever easy, but it was hard being a young teenage girl. I have a lot of other people in my life who have stepped in and filled in a sort of motherly role and helped me out along the way. Some days are harder than others for instance the anniversary of her death, her birthday, and other holidays. People are aware that I find those days harder than most. I am fortunate to have formed some life long friendships with some of my current teammates as well as teammates from other teams I have played on in the past. It is easy for me to talk to those people about anything, including the loss of my mom. I am extremely grateful to be able to play a sport with teammates who are always willing to lend me a shoulder to lean on." 

These, among other difficulties teammates would rather not have shared, are some of the hardships and realities my fellow teammates have overcome in life before and during their Badger careers. The struggle of watching family members battle illness, and the tragedy of dealing with loss are areas of life that the Badger team is well acquainted with. Through these struggles, the women that make up our team have emerged as strong individuals, propelling them to success on the ice and in various outlets of life. The determined nature of my teammates has enabled a number of them to share their experience with others, and also enabled them to appreciate life in a new way, and become a supportive teammate for those around them.

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One final area of life that I wish to unveil about the Wisconsin women's hockey team is in regard to our families. The parents, siblings, and grandparents who are not pictured in highlight films, or typically mentioned in newspaper articles, but are the reason every one of us is where we are today. 

"Just the commitment and support of my family: driving me an hour to and from the rink every day of the week for practice and games, and for allowing me to leave home at the age of 14 to attend a boarding school in another state to pursue my hockey career. Times haven't always been easy financially but they always came through and made ends meet. I could not ask for a more supportive and loving family and I'm very fortunate to have so many people that believe in me and are willing to let me pursue my dreams." 

Family is something that is extremely important in the eyes of my teammates and I.  As previously discussed, we have players who have watched as family members struggle with their health, and also we have players with family members actively serving in the military, players who families struggle to make financial ends meet, and individuals who rarely get to return home except for a few days a year because of distance and commute. There are friendships made on our team that will last a lifetime, long after we hang up our skates for the last time. The overall personality and family that has emerged in our locker room as a result of the shaping of our families back home is remarkable. 

Family is an area of life for the Badgers that is beyond any material value. The financial commitment and the time consuming schedule of the sport our parents allowed us to play at a young age is often difficult for families, but our parents made it work, and because of their sacrifice every one of us is where we are today. Without the love and support of our families none of this would be possible, but also the faith our families had in us from the start. 

Becoming a Division I athlete is no easy task, and that is not to put my teammates or myself on a pedestal and say no common individual can reach this stage, but it is a dream thousands of athletes of various sports have, and is a grueling competition to achieve that final goal. Our families believed in us. They enabled us to have the resources to chase our dreams, and supported us as we failed and succeeded along the way. The parents and support from back home is something that rarely receives credit on any stage of notoriety, but on behalf of my teammates: Thank you to all the parents, siblings, loved ones, and fans who have supported us along the way. The greatest play of any of our careers came the day you made the commitment to allow us to pursue our dreams.

A number of difficult times have been previously mentioned, but as the cliché saying goes, it's the hard days that make the good ones better. The Wisconsin team no doubt has days where someone comes to the rink and finds it difficult to smile because its been a rough go, but for the most part, our lives are filled with days where there are nothing but smiles in the room. The camaraderie and character of the various individuals makes for a great atmosphere, and it is something that I have been fortunate enough to have been a part of and experience first hand for the last four years. 

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As a member of the team, I have met people who have changed my life forever and have learned more about life that I ever could about hockey. My teammates are some of the kindest and most compassionate individuals I have ever encountered, and that is often unseen from the other side of the glass. In one word, to sum up my team, I would say the Wisconsin women's hockey team is relentless. Facing every battle, on and off the ice, with the tenacity and determination that we are always stronger than anything that can happen to us in this life. 

My teammates have taught me lessons I never thought I could learn through my college hockey experience, and it is my hope that through the sharing of some of these stories that the fans will see these women in a new light. I hope after reading this account that fans see them not only as Badger student-athletes but also as strong role models in the community and strong leaders in the future. Like all people in this world, members of this team have deep histories that make up the people they are today. My teammates, no matter where they come from or what they have been through, are outstanding examples of what hard work and the pursuit of a dream can amount to. I hope you enjoyed reading about my team as much as I enjoyed sharing this small piece of our story, and we hope to see you out at LaBahn as we continue on this season in search of our ultimate goal. 

Until next time, thanks for reading, and On Wisconsin!

-Madison Packer

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