No matter what career path recently graduated McDaniel College women's soccer player Kristen Upton ends up following in the future, a few things are certain:
She will be helping others.
She will pour her heart soul into her chosen profession.
And she will be very good at whatever she pursues.
It was during her middle school years that Upton, a native of Chalfont, Pa., frequently found herself in Children's Hospital of Philadelphia battling neurovascular dystrophy, a painful condition that leads to severe pain in the joints and muscles of children. The condition amplifies pain, so a "poke feels like a pounding, according to Upton.
Treatment consists of intensive physical occupational therapy for eight hours a day, five days a week. Upton needed four weeks of treatment in seventh grade when the condition targeted her back and ribs. In eighth grade it was the back of her head and spine, leading to three more weeks of treatment. Then in ninth grade a stomach bug caused her to lose 12 pounds in about 3-1/2 weeks.
The time spent in the hospital during those years left a lasting impression on Upton. It launched her on the academic and career path she chose, and also awakened within her a selflessness and desire to put the needs of others ahead of her own.
"I was in and out of the hospital during those years," Upton said. "And when I looked around and saw what others there were going through, I realized that I had it pretty easy compared to what many other were dealing with. That experience pointed me [toward medicine]. My experience sounds bad, but I met someone who had hip replacement surgery and was learning to walk again. Even though I hurt, I was still able to go home and go to soccer practice and hang out with friends."
While that experience pointed her toward a career in medicine, it also fostered within her a genuine concern for those around her that helped turn her into an exceptional leader and player on the soccer pitch.
"She's the epitome of a leader," McDaniel women's soccer head coach Sandy Lagana said. "She always approaches things the right way, and I could always count on her to handle herself with respect. She's just that person who everyone looks up to and is so diligent in trying to do everything the right way."
Upton started all 82 games during her four-year career and was named All-Centennial Conference three times as a center back, receiving first-team all-conference honors twice. She helped lead the Green Terror to four straight postseason appearances and three straight at-large NCAA Tournament bids. Upton was named the Centennial Conference Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2016 and 2017 and was named to the Centennial Conference Honor Roll three times. She was an Academic All-District selection by the College Sports Information Directors of America this past fall.
"Kristen was one of the few players to come in and be able to start all four years," Lagana said. "She clearly had the athletic ability and soccer ability, but also had the coachability and was willing to learn. Each year she developed as a player. It was interesting to see her grow from being a freshman who was learning to a really great leader during her sophomore year."
On the field, Upton managed to record 15 goals and three assists during her career. Described by Lagana as "fearless," Upton was a dangerous offensive weapon on corner kicks. In the classroom, she compiled a 3.93 grade-point average and participated in extensive on-campus cancer research while also serving as president and co-founder of the pre-health club. That, of course, is in addition to practices, workouts and other team responsibilities.
"It's just a matter of staying organized and prioritizing your time so that you can use it effectively," Upton said. "These were all things that I wanted to do. I wanted to get good grades so I could go to medical school. I wanted to do the best that I could on the field, so I would put in the extra ball work in and out of season and get reps in. It's really all about managing the 24 hours you have in the day and making sure that you get enough sleep and have time for meals. I probably didn't watch as much Netflix as I could have, but in the end I couldn't have had a better college experience."
As a reward for her academic and athletic accomplishments, Upton recently won one of three 2018 Maryland Association of College Directors of Athletics postgraduate scholarships. She was the Division II/III winner of the $500 award presented for superior work in the classroom and on the field. Winners had to maintain a minimum 3.2 grade-point average, excel in a varsity sport, participate in leadership activities beyond the playing field and plan to further their education.
Upton is still waiting to hear from a few medical schools about admission for the upcoming academic year. If she is not admitted this time around, she will continue on with her research and give it another shot next year. Lagana is convinced that Upton will make an impact no matter what she pursues in life, whether medical school becomes a viable option for Upton or not.
"I see her doing whatever she puts her mind to, whether she decides that she is going to become a medical doctor or that she is going to be a top cancer researcher or that she is going to be an academic professor," Lagana explained. "Whatever decision she makes or type of position she decides on, I see her doing whatever it takes to be successful."
Photo Credit: David Sinclair/McDaniel College