Soccer field at night

Lessons from the battlefield

Once they battled rival teams on Northwestern’s athletic fields. Now, as healthcare professionals on the front lines, these Weinberg College alumni are fighting a far deadlier opponent: COVID-19.

The Daily Northwestern recently highlighted five Weinberg College alumni who notched impressive careers as student-athletes while pursing undergraduate degrees in the arts and sciences. Now each are working directly with COVID-19 patients and finding their Northwestern experiences more relevant than ever.

The alumni include:

  • Kate Darmody Burke ’05, a former lacrosse player who is now a nurse managing an intensive care unit at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago’s Calumet Heights neighborhood.
  • Kerin Jones ’85, who played played both field hockey and lacrosse at Northwestern and is now a continuing medical education director at Detroit Receiving Hospital and an associate professor of medicine at Wayne State University.
  • Chinazo Opia Cunningham ’90, a Northwestern softball Hall of Famer who earned Big Ten Rookie of the Year honors. She is a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and has practiced internal medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York for 22 years.
  • Kristine Cieslak ’89, who won two Big Ten titles in softball and is now an attending physician in the pediatric emergency department at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.
  • Ryan Padgett ’96, who was a senior on the historic 1995 football team that went to the Rose Bowl and who is now an emergency physician at Evergreen Health Medical Center in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, Washington — the site of the first major COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.

Both Padgett and Cieslak came down with COVID-19 themselves in the course of treating patients with the disease.

The alumni credit their experiences as student-athletes for instilling them with the persistence, patience, self-discipline and trust they need to keep fighting the pandemic each day. Cieslak said:

“You’re stretched in ways you never knew you would be, and from that comes tremendous strength. When those tough times come up, you realize you’ve got it inside you. I’ve used it a lot of times in my life when I need to overcome something, and it never failed me.”

Read the whole story.