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Patriot League honors AU field hockey graduate

Emilie Ikeda received prestigious award for commitment to her team, despite a career-ending injury

Patriot League honors AU field hockey graduate

Emilie Ikeda, center, celebrates with her teammates on senior day in fall 2015. 

If asked about her AU field hockey career, Emilie Ikeda will enthusiastically talk about teammates, friends, coaches and the administration. She will talk about being a color commentator at the games and stepping on the field during senior day for the last time. And then she will talk about the doctor’s appointments.

After a brutal concussion during her sophomore year, Ikeda moved from doctor to doctor looking for a cure for her headaches and searching for a way to get back on the field playing the sport she loved. But conflicting reports and negative results kept coming in. Finally, in the spring of her junior year, Ikeda received news that she would never play field hockey again in what she calls a “bittersweet” moment.

“For a really long time I would go to all these different doctor appointments, and my hopes would get up, and I would think ‘this might be the thing to make my head feel better,’ Ikeda said. “I was always going to these appointments thinking ‘finally I’m going to feel better, and I’m going to get back to playing,’ and it’s almost like this weight came off my shoulders.”

Despite the doctor’s orders to stay off the field, Ikeda remained on the team. She helped in every way she could, working with the goalies, supporting her friends and assisting with team social media duties. She also became the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and worked with the administration to further develop and improve the athletic department, all while balancing a 3.86 GPA.

And, on June 17, the Patriot League honored Ikeda for her hard work and dedication, naming her the 2016 female recipient of the award for Outstanding Leadership and Character, an honor that head coach Steve Jennings said serves as a testament to Ikeda’s commitment and passion for her field hockey team.

“I hope the team can learn from Emilie how to appreciate the gift of health and for being able to try and to fail and to try again without restriction other than their mindset,” Jennings said in an email. “To be mindful of and feel awe for the grace through adversity that Emilie displayed on a daily basis. The ordeal she endured was almost never been about self--she kept her focus and our focus on the group which was in and of itself, amazing.”

Ikeda said her understanding of leadership and ability to handle adversity comes largely in part from her family as well as the culture that Jennings has created within his team.

Right before a disappointing doctor's visit during her junior year, Ikeda said she spoke with an AU field hockey alumna who suffered a career-ending back injury during her time at AU but still stayed on the team, even though she couldn’t compete. Ikeda said the encouragement she received from the alum as well as her teammates made her realize she could stay with her team as not only a member, but a contributor, even while remaining off the field.

“We have these standards for AUFH, and one of them is flexibility, and it’s just kind of crucial to take what you get and make the best out of it,” Ikeda said. “I just had to be creative and lot of times it’s not what you want, it’s not how you pictured things, but it can turn out to be better. You have to stay positive and use your resources, and don’t be afraid to lean on someone when you need it. I think any experience can be of value.”

Although Ikeda’s injury forced her to give up her dream of being back on the field, Jennings surprised her on senior night when he included her name in the starting lineup. Seeing her name on the list for the first time in over a year, Ikeda said she thought the decision was just a “cute” gesture at first.

A few minutes later, she realized she was, in fact, stepping in to play. Jennings arranged for Ikeda to take the push-back, a move that starts the game, before pulling her back out and keeping her safe from a repeat injury. But that one moment, Ikeda said, served as a representation of how much her team means to her and how honored she is to accept the league award for Outstanding Character and Leadership.

“I think that that moment kind of embodied and exemplifies the selflessness of my team and of athletic department, to go out of their way and create something like that for someone who had a little bit of a difficulty journey throughout college to make my day and make my hockey career, that was an amazing moment,” Ikeda said.

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