Speaker Challenges Students to Set "Big, Crazy" Goals

"It could have just as easily been me," said Cherie Hendrickson '04.

Speaking in Brooks School's Frank D. Ashburn Chapel about her National Women's Hockey League Boston Pride teammate Denna Laing (who sustained a severe spinal cord injury while playing in the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium alongside Hendrickson in 2015), the Brooks alumna shared how Laing inspires her to this day.

"It's nice for me to say that I'm grateful for my good health and able body," she said. "It's more meaningful for me to take action and make use of those abilities." And that is exactly what she did two years after Laing's accident, by trying "something crazy" and competing in an Ironman triathlon. "My friend can no longer skate, run, ride a traditional bike or even walk," Hendrickson said. "But I have a perfectly healthy body that [can] do all of those things."

She chronicled her experience in the grueling Ironman, and her drive to spread awareness about spinal cord injuries in support of Laing, on April 25 as the guest speaker for Brooks' annual Kippy Liddle Day, which celebrates outstanding achievements, accomplishments and character of female athletes at Brooks.

Katherine V. "Kippy" Liddle was a Brooks School history teacher, assistant crew coach and dorm parent who died in a 1984 boating accident while protecting the life of a student during a pre-season practice with the Brooks crew team on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

Brooks School's 2004 yearbook

Hendrickson was an ice hockey standout during her time at Brooks, leading the school to a NEPSAC championship and earning ISL All-Star team status in her fifth- and sixth-form years.

"What always stood out to me was that in addition to being an incredible athlete — serious, focused, motivated, the person you always wanted to have the puck at the end of the game on her stick to make something magical happen — she's an even better person [who] went out of her way to make others feel included," said Associate Director of Admission Jenelle Ries of Hendrickson, whom she coached during her first year at Brooks, while introducing the athlete in Chapel.

After playing at Providence College, Hendrickson continued to play hockey professionally for the Canadian Women's Hockey League's Ontario-based Burlington Barracudas, the Boston Blades and a professional Russian women's team called the Moscow Region Tornado before attending Tufts University's School of Medicine. She now works as a physician assistant specializing in pulmonary and critical-care medicine.

Visit our Athletes in College page to read about all the students who have continued to play sports post-Brooks

Sharing her story during Kippy Liddle Day was "an honor," Hendrickson said following her speech. It was also inspiring — to students, whom she challenged to set a "big, crazy goal."

"Be relentless in your striving to get there," she urged. "Make yourself uncomfortable in the pursuit. Persevere when you fall short and above all else, bring others with you. This is what athletics, and life, is all about."

Be "unafraid to aim high," she continued. "By definition, a big goal means you're likely to fall short a few times along the way. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again."

Hendrickson walked the talk with her Ironman experience, which she revealed actually served a dual life purpose. "Maybe by taking on this somewhat ridiculous goal that would put me far outside my normal comfort zone, I could not only see how far I could go, but hopefully inspire others to do the same," she told the Brooksians gathered.

At Brooks "we do a good job of urging people to try new things and push yourself to new experiences," she added outside of Chapel, before catching up with former coaches and teachers. "And I think encouraging students to continue to do that as life moves on is an important message to high schoolers. Hopefully, they carry it forward!"

Click to watch Hendrickson's speech in full.

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