August 29, 2012

Inspired by Teammate Ona McConnell, Yale Field Hockey Continues “Get a Grip” Campaign vs. Myotonic Dystrophy

Bulldogs Join Senior Goalkeeper and Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation in Effort to Find Cure

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Inspired by senior goalkeeper Ona McConnell, the Yale field hockey team has announced its third annual campaign to raise awareness and funds for the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation. McConnell was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy, the most common form of muscular dystrophy, as a freshman. The team's campaign, known as "Get a Grip", raised more than $50,000 in 2010 and more than $40,000 in 2011. This year's campaign begins with the home opener vs. local rival Quinnipiac at Yale's Johnson Field (70 Central Avenue, New Haven) on Sunday, Sept. 2 at 1 p.m.

The goals of the Yale field hockey team's "Get a Grip" campaign are:

  • Raise awareness
  • Fundraise for research
  • Support Ona and others with this disease

Yale will accept donations for the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation at the game on Sept. 2, and all who donate will receive a Myotonic Dystrophy wristband. "Get a Grip" T-shirts will also be on sale as part of the fundraiser. To help raise awareness, the Bulldogs will wear specially designed jerseys during the game.

Starting immediately and continuing throughout the 2012 season, the team is accepting pledges for a "Goal-a-thon" in which donations are based on the number of goals Yale scores for the season (the Bulldogs scored 69 last year, the most in school history). Donations can be made directly at https://npo.networkforgood.org/Donate/Donate.aspx?npoSubscriptionId=5067 and a pledge form will be available shortly at http://www.yalebulldogs.com/getagrip

Ona made her varsity debut in the 2010 Get a Grip campaign launch game, a 5-0 win over Sacred Heart. She also has appeared in four other games since, totaling more than 44:24 of playing time and allowing just one goal while making two saves. She was a National Field Hockey Coaches Association Academic Squad selection as a freshman and has won Yale field hockey's Amanda Walton Award for overcoming challenges each of the past two seasons.

Head coach Pam Stuper described the impact that Ona has had on her team.

"Student-athletes at Yale are challenged physically, mentally and emotionally as they pursue a world-class education both on and off the field," Stuper said. "Ona's accomplishments despite her challenges are that much more incredible, as she continues to serve as an inspiration to her teammates as well as those young women and men fighting this crippling disease. She has learned at a young age to take nothing for granted. She practices like most people play, with an intensity and competitive fire that one brings on game day.  She continues to improve in the weight room and out on the field, despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Every day she steps in goal brings a smile to my face, and -- more importantly -- to hers."

Ona is on the Board of Directors for the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation. She is interested in attending medical school and spent this past summer doing clinical research in muscular dystrophies, including myotonic dystrophy, with the leading researcher Dr. John Day at Stanford. This past spring she was honored by the Council of Masters at Yale with the F. Wilder Bellamy Jr. Memorial Prize. Established by friends of F. Wilder Bellamy Jr., B.A. 1937, this prize is awarded to the students who best exemplify the qualities for which the alumnus is remembered, including personal integrity, loyalty to friends and high-spiritedness in athletics, academics and social life.

Ona spent the summer of 2011 shadowing the head of the neurology department at Yale-New Haven Hospital, where she encountered other patients with myotonic dystrophy. During the summer of 2010 she was a paid intern at Beijing Normal University working in the functional magnetic resonance imaging laboratory under Prof. Yu-Feng Zang. 

Prior to coming to Yale, where she is a resident of Berkeley College, Ona was raised in England and Germany (she is a dual U.S. and U.K. citizen).  She led her field hockey team to victory at the Hessen State Championship and later played for West Hampstead women's team, where she was named most valuable player.

 "Yale, my coaches and my team have made all the difference as I confront this incurable disease," McConnell said. "Their support has given me the confidence to continue studying at Yale and playing on the team while coping with myotonic dystrophy.  Together we intend to raise more than $50,000 this year to fund research positions in finding a cure."

Myotonic dystrophy (known as DM, for dystrophia myotonica) is an inherited disorder affecting approximately one in 8,000 people worldwide.  It can appear at any age and manifests itself differently in each individual.  DM causes muscles to weaken and progressively waste away in the heart, brain, gastro-intestinal tract as well as endocrine, skeletal and respiratory systems.  Since the gene was identified in the early 1990s, researchers have discovered that the genetic flaw generally enlarges and causes more severe symptoms in subsequent generations.

THERE IS CURRENTLY NO CURE FOR MYOTONIC DYSTROPHY.

 The Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation (MDF), where McConnell serves on the board of directors, exists to enhance the quality of life of people living with myotonic dystrophy (DM), and to maximize research efforts focused on finding treatments and a cure for this disease, through community support, education, advocacy and research. The MDF Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee is comprised of leading experts in the field of myotonic dystrophy and muscle research.

Additional information on the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation may be found at http://www.myotonic.org

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

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