Kathy Waldo was skating up the ice during a recent game in
Boston's Matthews Arena, playing in the gnatlike way that earned
her a scholarship at Northeastern, when an opposing player took
exception to some Waldo stick checks. "I'm gonna kill you!"
yelled Providence's Valerie Bono, a 5'10" enforcer. Waldo, 5'2"
and maybe 115 pounds, laughed.
"Look at you," she said. "You're huge. You better be able to
kill me." Waldo, who seconds earlier had taken a firm (and
blatantly illegal) elbow to the noggin from Bono, laughed again
as her adversary glided away toward the penalty box.
Waldo, a 22-year-old senior forward for the Huskies, was two
months old when her parents, Maureen and Joe, were told that she
had cystic fibrosis, an inherited genetic defect that results in
chronic lung problems and digestive disorders. "The doctors said
she'd spend her life in hospitals," says Maureen, who resides
with her husband in Cross Plains, Wis. "Back then, cystic
fibrosis was in the dark ages. They told us our daughter would
live until she was 18, maybe 20, and that would be it."
Maureen takes a breath. She has seen Kathy go through coughing
spells, frightening infections and days when she was just plain
weary. It has been a battle. "We just decided to take our own
approach," says Maureen. "She was not going to grow up as a
patient. She deserved more."
Cystic fibrosis produces a sticky, thick mucus that damages the
tissue of the lungs, making breathing difficult. When one sits
in a stuffy hospital room, theorized Kathy's parents, breathing
does not get any easier. When one is outside, running and
jumping and sliding and taking in deep gulps of fresh air,
breathing is natural. So whenever young Kathy started coughing a
lot, Joe hauled her out to the sidewalk and made her sprint a
hard lap around the block. "The neighbors must've thought Dad
was some kind of tyrant," Kathy says. The Waldos also encouraged
their daughter to follow David, her older brother by a year,
into the yard to play football or baseball or basketball. Most
important, she followed David, who is not afflicted by cystic
fibrosis, into ice hockey.
Kathy was three years old when she first tried skating. At age
three she joined a local boys' Midget team for four- to
seven-year-olds. She was the first female to play on the boys'
hockey team at Middleton High. The only female team captain,
too. "Nothing's better for me than hockey," says Waldo, the
possessor of wide brown eyes and a comforting, toothy smile.
"The skating makes you work really hard, and then you take in
the cold air from the ice. It opens your lungs up and keeps
things moving in your body. For people suffering from CF,
It is easy to say that now, as Waldo finishes up a spectacular
four-year collegiate run. But who would've envisioned that? This
is not the story of a sickly girl struggling to earn a spot on
the bench. Waldo is a star for powerhouse Northeastern (22-6-3
and ranked No. 4 nationally at week's end). She is a natural
point producer (106 in 121 career games, including 12 goals and
15 assists this season through Sunday).
She's rugged, too. "Oh, is she tough," says Jaime Totten,
Northeastern's captain. "If someone's messing with her on the
ice, Kathy won't think twice about standing right up to her."
Waldo makes cystic fibrosis sound like a splinter in the butt,
only less painful. Truth be told, the path has not been smooth.
Every time she gets a cold or is even near someone with a cold,
there is cause for concern. Each day she takes a buffet of
medications, including an array of enzymes at each meal and
DNase, a liquid that breaks down the mucus that accumulates in
her lungs. Infection comes easily to the CF sufferer. In the
summer before her sophomore year, Waldo underwent surgery to
repair lingering damage to her right shoulder. The procedure
went well, but what followed was torture. As a result of the
operation, an infection spread through Waldo's lungs. She was on
and off IVs, in and out of the hospital, for five weeks.
It was a frightening period. Through her first 18 years Waldo
had been hospitalized only twice. "It reminded me of what can
happen," she says. "It was horrible." Gutsy as ever, Waldo
played 27 games that season. "She never complained," says
Totten. "We've seen what she has gone through without ever
feeling sorry for herself. That sends a message: Be tough."
"People who sit around and complain about life--that sucks,"
Waldo says. "I know I have a disease that's technically supposed
to give me a shorter life span. But why should I think about
dying? I've beaten the odds, and I'll continue to beat the odds."