Written by George Chapell '08
- Assistant Sports Information Director
BEVERLY, Mass. – When reflecting back on one's younger years, the time spent in eighth grade is usually not at the top of the list when it comes to the most enjoyable phases. There is a lot going on in the life of a young teen that can lead to a feeling of insecurity and doubt. Now, add in an underlying health issue that would cause you to miss 87 days of school, and you can imagine how tough that phase was for Endicott women's volleyball senior Mackenzie Kennedy (Andover, Mass.).
During her eighth grade year in the fall of 2011, Kennedy had her first seizure-type episode in the bathroom of her middle school. She was found unconscious on the floor and was transported to the hospital for what they believed to be a vasovagal syncope episode. Vasovagal syncope occurs when you faint because your body overreacts to certain triggers, such as the sight of blood or emotional distress. That trigger then causes your heart rate and blood pressure to drop suddenly, therefore causing you to lose consciousness.
What Kennedy did not know on that day was that it was the start of a very long journey that has not-so-indirectly led her to where she is today, at Endicott. Following her first episode, the Andover, Mass. native would have several more episodes, typically occurring once a day or once every other day. She would go on to miss those aforementioned 87 days of school because her episodes were uncontrolled and the school questioned whether or not returning would be in her best interest as she was now deemed a liability.
After many months of testing at some of the finest hospitals in Boston that included being told to take an indefinite leave of absence from sports, and to potentially wear a protective helmet until the situation was under control, it was determined by neurologists at Mass General and Boston Children's that the episodes were seizure-type episodes. Once that was identified, the cause was discovered to be that they were occurring secondary to a basilar disorder, which affects blood flow to the back of the brain via the basilar arteries. With the diagnosis in hand, a plan to treat the disorder was in place to allow her to return to a normal life, and with that, return to sports.
To return to sports, it was stated that she had to stay consistent on her medication and carefully control her lifestyle choices. Throughout Kennedy's neurological work-up, she was also diagnosed with a muscle movement disorder called dystonia. Dystonia is a movement disorder in which a person's muscles contract uncontrollably. The contraction causes the affected body part to twist involuntarily, resulting in repetitive movements or abnormal postures. Early-onset dystonia affects roughly 1 in 100,000 individuals worldwide and is typically crippling. Kennedy's dystonia presented as uncontrolled clonic muscle spasms in her right arm, shoulder, and primarily, her right hand. With her treatment, she has been able to continue a relatively normal and active lifestyle.
Ever since she started playing the sport as a young girl, Kennedy had a dream to play college volleyball. Throughout her struggles with seizures and dystonia, she was determined to not let those afflictions get in her way of reaching her dream. Kennedy was allowed to participate in intercollegiate athletics so long as her doctors approved and that her episodes were well managed and under control. At first, her body wasn't used to the rigors and new demands that accompany playing a collegiate sport on a top team in the region. As a result, Kennedy suffered three episodes during her freshman fall season, and another two during the spring of that year.
With this, her determination grew and she became aware of how she would have to become even more cognizant of her treatment. She actively worked with her doctors, parents, athletic training staff and head coach Tim Byram to get all parties involved in getting her episodes under control to allow her to participate in the sport she loved. Though there are still adjustments being made to this day, during the final stretch of her senior season, she has been able to thrive academically and athletically to the highest of levels.
Academically, Kennedy currently possesses a cumulative GPA of 3.82 as an Athletic Training major. She has completed internships with Drumhill Physical Therapy, Optimum Physical Therapy, at Boston College with the basketball and hockey teams, at Hamilton-Wenham High School, and with the Endicott men's lacrosse team. Her success during all of these, and specifically at Boston College, has led to her fulfilling her semester-long clinical with the Eagles' NCAA Division 1 football team.
Athletically, she has equaled her success in the classroom, on the court. Kennedy recently became the first student-athlete in program history to earn two Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Libero of the Year honors, as she earned the title as a junior as well, during a year in which she earned American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-Region Honorable Mention honors. For each of the past two seasons, Kennedy has also been named a National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) All-American as well.
"In some regards, I think of my medical history as a blessing," stated Kennedy. "It has allowed me to appreciate the games, practices, workouts and conditioning on a higher level because I saw how easily it could be taken away. I believe that it is my duty to give 100% to my sport because I was lucky enough to be able to continue playing. Every time I go to my doctor appointments or treatments, I see plenty of kids that are much sicker than myself, and would give anything to be in my shoes. I feel that I owe it to them to make the best of my situation because I was dealt a pretty good hand overall."
Kennedy continued, "My experience has taught me to never take things for granted and to always appreciate what you have. It has taught me to stay positive and that no matter how bad you may think you have it, things could always be worse. Finally, it taught me to play every day with passion because I am lucky enough to live out my dream."
Kennedy and her teammates will look to extend that dream a bit longer as the Gulls have earned the top seed in the upcoming CCC Tournament and will play host to a quarterfinal match this Thursday night. The winner of that match will advance to the championship match on Saturday.
(Photo Credit - David Le '10)