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On an unseasonably warm Sunday last month in Freemont, N.H., 22 teenaged girls took their positions on a pristine turf soccer field surrounded by tall pines and a copse of white birch trees straight out of a Robert Frost poem. The girls were playing in the top division of the U.S. Soccer Federation-affiliated New England Premiership club league, at a showcase scrimmage for a handful of college coaches in the stands. The whistle blew, and Kate Marshall, the center midfielder in the powder blue Seacoast United uniform, was off — a blur of rosy cheeks and blond hair, her ponytail whipping as she ran up and down the field. The 15-year-old from York, Maine, looked like any other athlete out there and played better than most, sprinting all-out down the sideline to launch a cross in front of the goal, crashing without restraint to the ground in a race to win a loose ball and patrolling the center of the pitch like a cop on the beat, taking her time to read the field and dish out pass after pass to her teammates while pouncing on opponents and stealing possession at a moment’s hesitation.
Of course Kate isn’t like any other athlete out there. She was the first to the huddle at halftime and the only one to trot back to the goal and fist-bump the keeper at the game-ending whistle. She was also the only one out there going all out on 90-percent lung capacity, a result of the genetic disease cystic fibrosis.
Kate wasn’t asking for pity, or coddling or special attention. In fact, she rarely ever talks about the insidious, life-threatening condition she was born with. But in her own quiet way on the field that day she was shouting to an unseen opponent: You’ll never beat me. I’m going to work twice as hard and be twice as good. I’ll show you.
A sophomore at York High, a small high school of about 700 students located three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean and a 10-minute drive from the border of live-free-or-die New Hampshire, Kate plays soccer and lacrosse for the Wildcats and competes year-round for her club soccer team. This fall, she earned a starting position at center midfielder for York’s varsity squad after playing jayvee last year and was selected by coach Walter Caldwell for the team’s Most Improved award, based on a laundry list of qualities including, what he called, her “consistency, grit and humility.”
Kate has a 3.30 grade point average, works a summer job at a beachside snack bar, coaches youth soccer in the fall, has a boyfriend on the football team, follows Beyoncé on Instagram, and is learning to drive. (Have her tell you the proper way to hit a moose that steps into the path of your car, required knowledge to pass the driver’s test in Maine).
She is. Stronger, even.