“When I chose to attend Holderness, it was the first time that I did something that opened up my world,” shared Kristen Cameron ’04 when she spoke with students in Hagerman Auditorium last week. “It started here.”
Kristen’s story is important because she is a paraplegic. When she attended Holderness over a decade ago, Kristen was a highly competitive hockey player, thriving under the coaching direction of Chris Day. She went on to Bowdoin where she continued to play hockey. Even after college, Kristen was so passionate about athletics that she pursued a career as a hockey coach, working with athletes at Mercyhurst University, a NCAA Division I team in Erie, PA.
Then in September of 2010, while riding her bike, Kristen was struck by a drunk driver, and the impact of the crash broke her neck. All that she had planned for her future was no longer certain.
Kristen returned to Holderness this fall to speak with students as part of this year’s social justice theme. In an effort to explore students’ perceptions of the world around them, each year Holderness focuses on one of four topics, arranging for speakers to visit campus and providing workshops that investigate the topics in depth. Past themes have included Race, Gender and Sexuality, and Privilege; this year the focus is on Ability, Disability and Access. Kristen’s talk focused both on the accident that changed her mobility and the path that it has taken her to service.
Another visitor to campus this fall was Kurt Christensen (KC). In 2007, KC passed the test to become a USPGA golf professional and was living out his dreams, golfing in the summers and snowboarding in the winters. Then in 2008, he was in a car accident that killed his best friend. KC was initially pronounced dead at the scene but was then rushed to the hospital, where he remained in a coma for two months. KC suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that required him to begin again, learning to eat, walk, talk, and even form facial expressions.
“10-15 years ago, doctors used to think that after one year, TBI patients wouldn’t progress,” KC explained to Holderness students during a Thursday evening chapel service, “But now they know that with repetitive practice, the brain can relearn tasks. It takes a lot of hard work, but the muscles can reconnect with the brain.”
KC is now an assistant golf professional at Owl’s Nest Resort and Golf Club in Campton, NH. He also works with New England Disabled Sports (NEDS), arranging adaptive golf tournaments for children with emotional and physical disabilities, as well as stroke victims, other TBI survivors, and Wounded Warriors.
“My life took a turn, but even without my disabilities, I would still want to help others,” says KC. Which brings up something that both KC and Kristen have in common, their attitude. Despite the difficult situations both face, they remain positive, looking toward the future and savoring every accomplishment, however small.
While she remains in a wheelchair, Kristen has spent the last seven years building her strength. In March, she was named to the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby National Team, which she hopes will take her to the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. She also hopes to return to coaching one day, either with able-bodied hockey players or with wheelchair rugby players.
“The only reason I have been able to do what I’ve done is because of my family and friends,” says Kristen. “For the last seven years, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people I wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for this situation. There’s positive in everyone; you just have to take the time to find it.”
Another speaker this fall will be Will Humphrey ’10, who did a senior thesis project on adaptive sports while at Holderness. He has continued to follow athletes, regardless of their abilities or limitations, for the past seven years. He has created a feature documentary, Endless Abilities, and he wants to share it with the Holderness community in November.
But not all disabilities are visible, and Director of Equity and Inclusion Jini Sparkman plans to spend the second half of the year exploring the invisible nature of this theme.
“Learning disabilities, cognitive development, cancer, mental health, PTSD, and many other abilities/disabilities go unseen. Though usually harder to observe and recognize, they are equally important to our dialogue,” says Jini. “During the spring semester, we will have additional speakers and workshops that explore Ability, Disability, and Access from a nonvisible perspective.”
It’s all about that opening up and awareness that Kristen Cameron noticed when she first came to Holderness in 2002. Seeking to promote an understanding of how to learn and lead in a complex, inter-connected world, Holderness continues to create opportunities for students to develop empathy and fairness--Pro Deo et Genere Humano.