There’s just no stopping this kid.
Averill Park native and Albany Academy graduate Teagan Ketchum started skating at the age of 2, and was introduced by older brother Trevor to the sport of hockey at age 3 or 4, she said. Then, at 5 or 6, she was diagnosed with two diseases about a month apart.
By then, she had developed a love of hockey, but epilepsy and a degenerative hip disease offered up a one-two punch that could have knocked her out of competitive sports.
She wouldn’t have that, though, and rather used hockey as her motivation when the going got tough.
“With such a rough time, my love for hockey and the family I had in the hockey community were the people who actually brought me out of that kind of depressing stage after the diagnosis for both of them,” Ketchum said. “The encouragement I received came from my coaches and teammates to keep pushing.
“So when I was in a bad spot, had to have another surgery, my big push was, ‘I can get through this, because I have to get back on the ice.’ That was a big help to me. Rather than quitting hockey and just trying to deal with this, there was more of a push because I had to get back to it.”
Now a sophomore playing for Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., Ketchum has put 13 months between herself and her last seizure, and with a lift on her skate and an adjustment to her stride, she is finding a way to keep playing.
Her degenerative hip disease is Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease. According to www.mayoclinic.org, it “occurs when too little blood is supplied to the ball portion of the hip joint (femoral head). Without an adequate blood supply, this bone becomes unstable, and it may break easily and heal poorly. The underlying cause of the temporary reduction in blood flow to the femoral head is still unknown.”
Ketchum said she owes some thanks to Reebok and Bauer for their work with her to provide a lift for the skate on her right foot, as her right leg is about an inch shorter than her left because of the disease.
“I do have to change my stride a little bit, but it doesn’t stop me, as far as speed or anything like that,” she said. “You just kind of have to adjust the way you skate. My stride is a little bit shorter than a normal stride would be, but other than that, I can adjust pretty easily and skate just as fast as some of the other girls.”
“I don’t look at Teagan when she’s skating up ice and think, ‘She’s got a different stride because she has a lift,’ ” said Sacred Heart coach Tom O’Malley. “That doesn’t even factor into it. I just look to see she can skate. She’s a pretty quick skater, at that.”
She said there is daily work that goes into her being able to maintain her level of play. She has to do a little more in her off-ice workouts than the other players because the muscles around her right hip will weaken faster than the ones around her left hip. She also has to stretch a little more to maintain her range of motion.
As with any kind of degenerative disease, there may come a time that degeneration progresses to the point it limits Ketchum’s physical activities.
“There’s going to be a time when I have to have a full hip replacement, and I probably won’t be able to skate,” she said. “[The doctors] don’t know if that’s going to be a fact or not. It depends on how I recover from it.”
As far as the epilepsy, she said she and her doctors have finally found a medication that seems to keep the disease under control.
Now she just has to stay on her meds, avoid alcohol and strobe lights, she said. At some arenas, that may be easier than at others, especially during pregame introductions, but she said there haven’t been many issues.
“There’s been nothing really serious. Sometimes, a fluorescent light can affect it a little bit, but nothing too bad, and that hasn’t happened in our rinks,” she said. “There’s been some instances on the road where someone will flash a light a few times kind of quickly. But all we have to do, my team just asks them to stop because it will affect me, and everyone’s been understanding.”
Her epilepsy can also affect her studies, she said, but the school’s professors and tutors always make time for her and have been a great help in her maintaining a 3.1 GPA. She is a double major, studying business administration and sports management. She said she may look to a career on the business side of the sports world after graduation.
Whether she does or not, she is likely to have options. Until then, she provides options for her coach, who lists her on the roster as forward/defenseman. She was a defenseman for Albany Academy, but has been playing more often as a forward for Sacred Heart. O’Malley enjoys having her as a two-way player at forward.
“Sometimes, she hops up on the ice and one of the defensemen might rush the puck up, and you feel pretty good knowing Teagan can cover for her,” he said. “You’re almost getting two-in-one with her. She’s made a great adjustment [to the college game]. She fits in well here, and she works hard.”
More to the point, she wants to work hard. Asked her preference between the two positions, she can’t decide between the gritty work in the corners on the forecheck and the challenge of taking away time and space while defending a rush.
“As a forward, going into the corner strong and forechecking someone and rushing to get that puck,” she said, “while getting back and coming on a one-on-one as a defenseman is something I love as well.”
Either way, it’s all another form of medicine for Ketchum.