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McDonald Knows No Limits

(Note: This profile on Eastern track and field athlete Kristen McDonald appeared in the April 24 edition of the Hartford (CT) Courant. It is being re-printed courtesy of the Hartford Courant. Photos which accompany this piece are provided by the Eastern Sports Information Office.)

Courant Staff Writer

WILLIMANTIC -- One day at show and tell at Oswegatchie School in Waterford the third graders talked about their vacations and pets.

Then it was Kristen McDonald’s turn. She passed around an arm and a leg. Hers.

McDonald, who was born without a right arm and right leg and a deformed left hand, had brought in extra prostheses.

“They had questions and didn’t know how to ask,” McDonald said. “They thought it was exciting, cool.”

Now McDonald is 20 and a junior at Eastern Connecticut and a member of its track team. She missed practice one day last week because she had to go to Shriner’s Hospital in Springfield to get refitted for an arm and leg. Late next month she’ll have new limbs.

Not your ordinary javelin thrower.

McDonald chose the javelin because it may be the only event that isn’t affected too much by her prostheses. The running part is difficult but not enough to make excuses, she said. And because she can only weight lift with one arm she doesn’t have the strength of other javelin throwers. But she doesn’t let that deter her.                   

“I was amazed by her desire to compete,” coach Frank Poulin said. “I’m always thrilled by that … I’m a lot more impressed by a kid who wants to do something. You see a lot of talented kids who don’t do anything. It would be easy for her to crawl into a corner. She’s not like that at all. I really admire her.”

The more fuss you make over McDonald the less she likes it.                  

“My mom (Cathy McDonald) always says I’m a role model and God made me this way so I could teach people,” McDonald said. “And I say that’s a lot of crap. I’m not a poster child and I don’t consider myself different. Everyone has things in their life they have to deal with and mine is different than someone else’s. I would never use the word disability and I hope no would use that to describe me. And what I’m doing is not all that great.”

Others think so.

April 16 at the Elmer Swanson Invitational at Wesleyan, the 5-foot-7, 135 McDonald threw her career best by more than a foot (79-feet-9) and finished sixth in a field of eight.

“Someone like that being out here doing what she’s doing is absolutely unbelievable,” said CC Costello of Westfield State who finished second (107-4). “She may not be the best one out here but who cares? She’s out here to have fun. She doesn’t want to be ‘Oh, you’re that girl.’”

Poulin knows McDonald will maximize her abilities.

“She does what she can,” he said. “A lot of kids would not be willing to try things that are challenging like that. In my mind she’s a world class athlete.”

McDonald said nothing during her mother’s pregnancy signaled anything was wrong.

“There was no history of it in her family,” she said. “It was just one of those things.”

Cathy is thrilled that he daughter became an athlete.

“She never wanted special treatment and didn’t get any,” Cathy said.

With support from her brother, sister, parents and friends, McDonald was never made to feel different or left out of anything.

“I grew up with people who accepted me, no questions asked,” McDonald said. “I never stopped and wondered if I can do this or not. I just did it. That’s how I was raised. I saw other kids doing things and I considered myself just like others kids.”

That show and tell day at school went a long way toward McDonald fitting in.

“That took the taboo out of it,” Cathy said. “Her attitude was ‘Talk about it and get it over with.’”

When McDonald’s father Peter began an instructional basketball program at Oswegatchie McDonald joined because her friends did.

“When you’re young you like to be busy,” McDonald said.

She also played T-Ball, baseball and softball.

At Waterford High School she played basketball and took up the javelin. Dribbling a basketball was difficult for her but she could pass, catch and shoot. But she could grab the javelin with her small left hand and throw it. She threw 72-feet in high school and was a walkon at Eastern. She was apprehensive about throwing the javelin in college competition. She was a nervous, shaking wreck as a freshman.

“Coach said I think too much and when you think too much you tense up and things don’t go as well,” McDonald said.

Now the javelin is fun again. It probably helps her that she doesn’t consider herself a competitive person. But she is. She wants to reach 90-feet before she graduates. She has a 3.3 grade point average in history and works in libraries on campus and in Waterford. 

Perhaps the toughest time for McDonald was around the age 13 or 14 when she went through a “woe is me” period.

 “I know now how much worse off I can be,” she said. “I have a family that loves me, an awesome group of friends and I’m going to college. I have way too many things in my life going good for me to bitch and moan a

bout one thing that didn’t turn out how I planned.”

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