By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
Most college students (never mind student-athletes) have enough on their mind. For Kelsey Zeswitz, she’s gone through the normal stresses of a college student-athlete, plus more, ever since her sophomore year when her life changed. The summer of 2010 was when Kelsey’s mother was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s. Now two years later, Kelsey and her Lehigh field hockey teammates are doing something extremely meaningful; they’re taking part in the Lehigh Valley Fox Trot 5K on Sunday, Oct. 28, all with her mother (Chrissie) in mind. The 5K will take place on Lehigh’s Goodman Campus.
“It was pretty life changing for me,” said Zeswitz. “As an athlete, I’d never even considered anyone in my family - especially my parents who are still young - having any sort of disability. It was hard for me to deal with.
“What was really awesome was to see how my mom responded. It hasn’t phased her one bit,” Zeswitz continued. “She’s probably in the best shape of her life right now; she’s working out and making an effort to stay on top of exercise because that’s one of the only proven treatments of Parkinson’s at this time.”
Kelsey began thinking about what she could do to make a difference.
“I just got thinking that I really want to do something to encourage and support her while I have access to these resources at school and I’m in my final season of field hockey here,” she said. “I contacted the Michael J. Fox foundation. That’s how the whole plan started.”
Zeswitz first went to the Lehigh coaches about the idea. She was met by nothing but encouragement.
“I went to the coaches first to throw around the idea because we have started to do different charity events as a team,” she said. “I went to Coach [Stacey] Blue saying this was something I really wanted to do. I knew it was going to be busy in-season and would take a lot of planning and commitment from people other than myself. She was incredibly encouraging, saying I had the whole team [behind me].”
“My initial reaction was that I admired her and her cause,” said Blue. “Kelsey is such a thoughtful person and this is just one example that people can see. I know her and I’m not surprised one bit she chose to do something for someone who is so close to her heart. I am touched at how much she looks up to her mother and as her coach, I would fully support her, or any of my athletes, when they reach out to help others.”
“It’s really been great to see how people have joined together to support me and help where they can,” said Zeswitz. “We’re busy with the season, so everyone’s trying to pick up where they can to help with the planning.”
The actual 5K is the day after the regular season finale vs. Lafayette, and will likely serve as a recovery run for the team. Zeswitz will likely run the race with her mom.
“Obviously it’s really hard to find a weekend during field hockey season that’s available to have an event like this,” said Zeswitz. “That was the window we had. It’d be right before our time to focus on postseason but right after we close out the regular season.”
Not only will the Mountain Hawks be taking part in the 5K, but they’ll also be helping volunteer, handling various tasks like signing people in and getting participants their numbers.
“My mom’s symptoms have been slow to progress, which has been good because I think it’d be hard for me to see that progression immediately,” said Zeswitz. “It’s hard to tell with Parkinson’s how quickly the symptoms will progress. She’s been working out and doing everything she can. She’s so determined and so optimistic about all of this.
“It’s been really hard for me because my mom has been so influential,” Kelsey continued. “She’s been the one to encourage me and support me through every sport I’ve played through every stage of my life. Now it’s my turn to support her, to take part in something like this, to raise awareness and raise funds for a great cause.”
“I don’t think of this as a community service project; I see it more as a life project,” said Blue. “Many times, we all get wrapped up in taking life and circumstances for granted. I think a cause like this reminds people about the important things in life. I am looking forward to a great turnout on the 28th.”
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“We also have sponsors taking care of expenses as far as renting facilities, t-shirts, flyers and all those things,” said Kelsey. “We’re opening up to the entire Lehigh Valley, so we’re looking to make more connections. I’ve made some connections in the area - trying to get word out that way with people who have been involved with Parkinson’s research and been involved with the progression of the disease.”
Zeswitz is looking for organizations, business and individuals to get involved in any way they can.
“I spent a lot of time researching what group I wanted to do a fundraiser for and the Michael J. Fox foundation is just incredible, and they’ve done some really amazing things,” she said. “The co-founder of Google has actually offered to match dollar-for-dollar every fund raised. And that’s only for 2012. So if I raise a certain amount this fall, it will actually be doubled. That’s some motivation to get everything together sooner than later.”
Zeswitz knows that community service is an integral part of every student-athlete’s experience. But in this case, it’s certainly extra meaningful.
“I think it’s really important as a team that we’re getting involved in the community,” she said. “Even outside Lehigh Athletics, we have events like Reading Rocks and all of those things which are really great. But I think it’s important to establish ourselves, individually as a team that goes out and takes the time to get involved in different causes.
“The team has been amazing with their response to this and they are being very supportive and they want to help with anything they can,” she continued. “A lot of the girls know my mom. I think this is going to be a really special event.”