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Living Out Her Dream: 35-Year Old Soccer Mom and Ex-Penn State Field Hockey Star Joins the Varsity Team — Stepping Back on the NCAA Field for One Last Year of Eligibility …  And Excels!

Allentown, PA (September 16, 2008) — In 1993, Heather Atkinson Gallagher was flying high. She was one of the nation’s top forwards at Penn State, then nationally ranked as the number one NCAA Division I field hockey team, and she had realized her goal of playing championship-quality hockey. But shortly after wrapping up an exciting year in the national spotlight — and proving she truly was one of the team’s standout players — Gallagher called it quits and stepped off the field for good. She left Penn State early, got married and started a family. But that’s only half of the story.

Now, 15 years later, soccer mom Gallagher is using the year of eligibility she had remaining from her Penn State years to get back on the hockey field — not as a seasoned coach, but as a player on Cedar Crest College’s Varsity Field Hockey Team. Today she is running alongside women nearly half her age not only helping a fledgling, but promising, Division III team earn respect within their division but also gain valuable lessons about the sport and about life.

 “The heart of a competitor never dies,” says Gallagher, now 35 years old and a senior nursing major at Cedar Crest College. “I am learning true passion for the game from my teammates and our coach, Marci Lippert. These women really love the game and it shows. Together, they are so dedicated to making the Cedar Crest program grow and improve. I am very grateful to have this opportunity and that Marci and my teammates have accepted me.  It is so exciting to be out there again.  I feel like a bear after hibernating, or like someone riding a bike after so many years.  It all comes back, although, maybe a little slower, than I would like.” 

As an adult student, Gallagher’s life experience is deep. Now the mother of two sons, 11 and 14, and a full-time student working to finish her nursing degree, played three seasons for Penn State (1991-93), and helped the Nitttany Lions advance to the NCAA semifinals in both 1991 and 1993.  Gallagher stayed home with her sons for five years, but kept involved with local field hockey by officiating and sometimes coaching at area high schools.  When she returned to the career world, she noticed there were good job opportunities in nursing, and she decided to enroll at Cedar Crest College to finish her bachelor’s degree.

It didn’t take long before Gallagher’s husband piqued her interest in playing field hockey again when he mentioned that she probably had a year of athletic eligibility left. Lucky for Gallagher, Dr. Diane Moyer, one of her former coaches and mentors, worked as a professor in the College’s psychology department and she approached her with her husband’s idea. A former Olympian and silver medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles games Moyer is an accomplished hockey player in her own right. She thought the idea had merit and put her in contact with Lippert, Cedar Crest’s field hockey coach. Lippert and Gallagher met with the school’s athletics director, and worked out eligibility issues with the NCAA, which granted her a year to finish her playing career. What seemed a distant dream was suddenly a reality.

 “Her body may not be able to do as much as when she was young, but mentally she is very strong,” says Moyer. “In order to be a good athlete you need to be a smart one. She has potential to share her wealth with the players we have. Heather knows what she can do and what can’t do. She knows the game and as a result, the other players are really learning from her.”

Lippert agrees. “The students like how she coaches quietly on the side. She is not like me as a coach, instead, she is a quiet leader. She encourages them to work on their skills and makes suggestions. They really respect her experience,” says Lippert, who notes that Gallagher is playing the cherry picker spot on the team and is getting a lot of shots on goal. She is definitely an offensive threat.

Gallagher’s teammates have received her with open arms, nicknaming her “Super Mom” and voting her one of the team captains, which really touched the veteran.  Gallagher says that she feels lucky to be among them.

“I will say that just being a part of this team has made me feel like more of Cedar Crest student and not just a nursing student going back for her degree.  I have developed a real sense of pride for the college. But, this is it for me … no more second chances or third chances. I push myself as far as I can go and some days it is hard. I have to put things into perspective and appreciate this chance and opportunity; I am here to live out my dream.  I admit my body may be hurting, but I also admit that I love this.  I have definitely gotten back my competitive spirit again and it feels good.”

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