YORK, Maine — A month ago, Kate Marshall was viewed by most as a talented but typical high school student-athlete.
The 15-year-old York High School sophomore was an all-star soccer player, played club soccer, played lacrosse and excelled in the classroom with a GPA of 3.30.
Until recently, only a handful of people knew she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 7 months old.
They didn’t know about the daily breathing treatments she does religiously at 5:15 a.m., another 30-minute breathing treatment before she goes to bed, the 12 different medications she takes every morning along with vitamins and enzymes to help her body digest fats, the additional meds she takes at lunch, and another six to eight at dinnertime.
Thanks to her selection as the Sports Illustrated High School Athlete of the Month for December, all her classmates, her community and people around the nation know all about Marshall.
The award — published in last week’s edition of the magazine in print and online — recognizes a student-athlete each month who displays strength and character on and off the field.
“It’s been cool to see the type of attention I’ve been getting and how everyone is so nice and caring,” said Marshall, a starting midfielder on the York girls varsity soccer team. “I’ve never been one to open up about this personal part of my life.”
Sports Illustrated will present Marshall with the award during halftime of Thursday’s varsity girls basketball game against Freeport. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m. at York High School.
‘It’s kind of eye-opening
“I am a little nervous and excited,” Marshall said. “I am not used to be in the center spotlight concerning this. It’s cool to represent the [cystic fibrosis] community, my school and town. It will be an experience I’ll never forget. It will be awesome.”
Since the Sports Illustrated story and video published, Marshall has received emails and texts from all over the country. She has been told by many that she is a role model.
“I think that’s a huge compliment,” she said. “I never pictured myself as [a role model] until now, it’s kind of eye-opening. Ever since I was little I remember my mom giving me my meds and always doing breathing treatments. I never really questioned it because I knew nothing different.”
Marshall was surprised when she first heard Sports Illustrated wanted to a story about her.
“I was blown away,” she said. “It was Sports Illustrated, and they wanted to do a story on Kate Marshall from York, Maine. I looked at the kids from previous months and watched their stories. They were so inspirational, like others told me that I am. It’s insane to be put in the same category with those kids who were chosen before. It was really eye-opening for me and a humbling experience.”
Marshall’s mother, Martha Marshall, said the response in the last week has been “overwhelming” for Kate Marshall and her family.
“It’s been very humbling,” she said. “So many people have reached out to Kate. Pro soccer players, [Division I college] soccer players with [cystic fibrosis] encouraging Kate to continue to strive to play in college and families with newly diagnosed children. The message that Sports Illustrated did was brilliant. When you are faced with a challenge, know you have a challenge and do what is needed to overcome it and not let it control you.”
Marshall started playing soccer at age 3, when her parents signed her up for the York Parks & Recreation league.
“They were the first ones there to sign me up and encouraged me to play, even when I didn’t like it all,” Marshall said. “I was holding the ref’s hands on the sideline. I didn’t like it at first, but I stuck with it and got more successful at it.”
That success led Marshall to play soccer year-round at Seacoast United in Epping, New Hampshire, and to attend as many York varsity soccer games as she could, starting in the fifth grade.
“I was mesmerized watching the players under the lights and wanting to be just like them,” Marshall said. “That was a huge drive for me, for me to become a high school soccer player.”
Marshall received the team’s Most Improved Player award this season.
‘I never use [cystic fibrosis] as an excuse’
“We never talk about [cystic fibrosis],” Caldwell said. “We put no restrictions on her. Because I am aware of what she is going through, I may appreciate her effort more.”
Caldwell said Marshall had a great season with the Wildcats, especially in the second half.
“Her level of play was exceptional,” Caldwell said. “She played as well as anyone on the team. She makes players around her better.”
Marshall was a starting midfielder on the lacrosse team last year as a freshman.
“She’s a fantastic athlete,” York girls lacrosse coach Jodie Lawlor said. “She’s very quick and motivated. She was one of the top JV players last season, and I am looking forward to seeing her on the field this season.”
Whether it be soccer or lacrosse, Marshall refuses to sit on the sidelines because she has cystic fibrosis.
“When I come out of a game because of [cystic fibrosis], [cystic fibrosis] has won,” she said. “I always push myself as hard as I can. I want to be working as hard as the girl next to me and pushing myself to play with the best players, because that’s how you get better. I never use [cystic fibrosis] as an excuse.”
Marshall has one message for young kids who have cystic fibrosis and are on the fence about participating in a sport.
“[Cystic fibrosis] is intimidating, but go for it, you have nothing to lose,” she said. “You can’t be scared of the unknown because the future is unknown. You can’t really be scared. It’s like saying you are scared about driving to school because you may get into an accident. Life is full of challenges, and you have to face them and not be scared at all.”
Cystic fibrosis causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract and other areas of the body. It is one of the most common chronic lung diseases in children and young adults. It is life-threatening, though much progress has been made in fighting the disease. The median predicted lifespan was age 41 as of 2012, representing an increase of 10 years over a decade earlier, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Those numbers don’t scare Marshall.
“[Cystic fibrosis] can be perceived as a scary disease, but it doesn’t scare me because I am one of the fortunate people with it and I can control it,” she said. “I was fortunate to be born when I was with all the medical advancements. I am always doing my treatments and staying healthy and not letting it control me. Facts can be scary, but medical advancements are so insane now.”
Marshall said at times she does get frustrated, especially getting up every morning to do her treatments when she, like most teenagers, would rather spend an additional 30 minutes in bed.
“I sometimes ask myself, ‘Why me, why do I have this when other people don’t?’” Marshall said. “But then I realize this is what I was meant to deal with, and it’s something to embrace with open arms because you can’t change it right now. You have to stay positive and hopefully the future has a good outcome, which I think it will be medically — that would be awesome.”
Marshall knows what she wants to do with the rest of her life.
“I want to go into the medical field,” she said. “The health field is always in my world every day. It’s something I want to focus on.”
Marshall first heard the phrase “victims never win” when she was in the seventh grade.
“My parents have always told me that quote,” she said. “I started thinking about those words one time when I was in the hospital. It’s just something you have to keep reminding yourself when you get down. A victim never does really win because you can’t feel sorry for yourself. If you do, you’re never going to feel positive and happy. Everyone with this disease is amazing and fighting this really hard battle. I am way more than just [cystic fibrosis], it’s just a little part of me.”
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously attributed it to John Pinsonnault. The writer is Jay Pinsonnault.