Kathryn Waldo, 33; her grit and skates propelled NU team

Kathryn Waldo helped lead the Northeastern Huskies to a conference title in 1997. The previous year, she split two Boston College players (above) at the Beanpot tournament, which NU won. Kathryn Waldo helped lead the Northeastern Huskies to a conference title in 1997. The previous year, she split two Boston College players (above) at the Beanpot tournament, which NU won. (Globe Staff / File 1996 Photo / Pat Greenhouse)
By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / December 16, 2009

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Shortly after her recuperation from a double lung transplant seven years ago, the result of a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis, former Northeastern University ice hockey star Kathryn Waldo laced up her skates again, with a club team in her native Wisconsin.

She had waited a year for a donor and had spent seven months in a hospital on a ventilator. But after the transplant in July of 2002 and a subsequent rehab program at home and at the University of Wisconsin, Ms. Waldo returned to her second home, the rink.

“She was so happy to be back playing the sport she loved, and I remember she’d come out of that tunnel to get to the ice like a lightning bolt,’’ recalled her mother, Maureen. “She also took up golf and could hit the ball a mile and went back to her high school (Middleton High in Cross Plains, Wis.) to coach junior varsity softball.’’

Ms. Waldo’s effort to live a full life while giving to friends and family was dealt a serious setback in 2004, when her body rejected the transplant. Ms. Waldo, who had moved to Rochester, N.Y., from Las Vegas two months ago to be with her brother, David, and sister-in-law, Jarren, died Dec. 9 at Strong Memorial Hospital of lung and kidney failure. She was 33.

Two days before Ms. Waldo’s death, her sister-in-law gave birth to twins, and Ms. Waldo was shown pictures of the newborn girls, Sadie and Chloe, in her hospital room.

“She was a fighter, and she wanted to live long enough to see that the twins were OK,’’ said her brother. “One of the last things she asked me was, ‘Do you think I’m giving up?’ We assured her that we knew she wasn’t.’’

Her grit earned the respect of her teammates and the coaching staff at Northeastern, where Ms. Waldo lettered from 1995 to 1999. She was a driving force behind NU’s run to the Eastern College Athletic Conference’s Division 1 championship in 1997, the same year she received the conference’s Sarah Devens Award for her hard work and commitment on and off the ice.

She had led the Huskies in scoring with 15 goals as a freshman and by her senior season had also earned the ECAC’s Award of Valor.

“I’ve never wanted to come out of a game; I’ve never wanted to miss a game because of cystic fibrosis,’’ Ms. Waldo said in a 1996 Globe interview. “Matter of fact, it’s the opposite. If I’m having a bad cold or having a bad time, what I do is force myself onto my skates, It (the cold air in the rink) clears the infection a lot faster than lying in bed.’’

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that affects lung and digestive function and leaves those afflicted prone to infection.

Even after five weeks of hospitalization when her lungs became infected before her sophomore season, Ms. Waldo still suited up for 27 games. And if she missed a game, recalled former NU head coach Heather Linstad - now head coach at the University of Connecticut - Ms. Waldo would ask for more ice time in practice. She never let her illness take away the game she loved and played with passion, Linstad said.

“Waldo was tiny (5-foot-2, 115 pounds), but she was a little powerhouse and one of the strongest skaters on our team. She inspired us to push ourselves and work harder,’’ said former teammate Emily Sweeney, a reporter for the Globe. “I remember so many times we’d be skating laps at practice and my legs would be burning. I’d be gasping for air, and then I’d look up and see Waldo still skating away, pulling ahead of the pack and beating everyone to the finish line.

“I always admired her.’’

That skating ability, along with a scoring touch, stick-handling skills, and a tenaciousness against bigger opponents paid off with 52 goals and 54 assists during her college career, including 17 points in the women’s Beanpot Tournament. When the Huskies defeated Boston College in overtime for the 1996 Beanpot title, Ms. Waldo’s pass to linemate and then team captain Jessica Wagner set up the winning goal.

“It was a cherished highlight of my hockey career,’’ said Wagner, “and it happened because of Waldo. She was little in stature but bigger than life, someone you never forget. She never let on or talked about her illness, and players new to the team never really knew until we’d visit her at Children’s Hospital when she would be getting treatment for her lungs. To not just play but to be a star was amazing, truly amazing.’’

Ms. Waldo, who ranks 19th in career scoring in Northeastern women’s hockey, was featured in a 1999 Sports Illustrated article. She also appeared on Good Morning America and received the Giant Steps Award in 1998, given to athletes who have overcome adversity to achieve outstanding success in college.

As a result of that honor, she was invited to the White House to meet President Clinton.

A 2000 graduate of Northeastern, where she majored in education, Ms. Waldo coached girls hockey at Framingham High before her transplant.

“She was the kind of person who never complained about her situation,’’ said former NU women’s hockey captain Emily Pemrick, Ms. Waldo’s college roommate. “She would have to take a nebulizer treatment in the morning and on her bad days, she’d have to get hit in her back to clear her lungs. She also had to take enzymes and nutrients to help her digest her food and yet when she came to practice, she never asked to sit down. But you knew it was a struggle for her.’’

Ms. Waldo’s father, Joseph, was a youth and club hockey coach; and when his daughter was age 3, she was tagging along with her older brother and father to the rinks.

She made the boys varsity team at Middleton High, the first female to do so, and even scored a three-goal “hat trick’’ in one game. She also was a softball star and prom queen in high school.

“She was given a bum hand, but she made the most of it because she had a heart that wouldn’t quit,’’ said her mother. “She clawed her way back, but the antirejection drugs affected her kidneys, and she had been on dialysis for the past year and a half.

“But it didn’t stop her from boarding a plane with her dog and flying to Rochester for the birth of her nieces.’’

In addition to her parents, who reside in Las Vegas, and her brother, Ms. Waldo leaves her sister, Jennifer Amelburu of Las Vegas.

A memorial service, which was attended by several college teammates, was held in Rochester on Saturday.