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Former Olympian trades hockey sticks for scrubs at Oak Hammock

Former Olympian trades hockey sticks for scrubs at Oak Hammock
Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 6:29 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) -Two world champion rings and an Olympic Silver medal in ice hockey don’t come easy.

“My dreams got pulled from me, I faced a lot of adversity in my time,” said Oak Hammock Physical Therapy Director, Karen VanEtten.

Adversity includes broken bones, a collapsed lung and internal bleeding for VanEtten who spent her childhood and early 20s playing ice hockey. A career-ending third concussion retired VanEtten after winning Silver with Team USA in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

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“What’s it like to be full speed and realize you’re playing in the Olympics,” asked VanEtten. “Or getting your first assist? Scoring your first Olympic goal, scoring two goals in the semi-finals. And getting to do that with people that you’ve spent ten years with developing friendships and becoming lifelong friends and honestly, all of that pales in comparison to getting to share this experience with my family.”

As a professional ice hockey player VanEtten went as Karen Thatcher, her maiden name. Her passion for her sport’s career transitioned into a love for elder healthcare by inspiring Oak Hammock residents to keep an Olympian’s mentality.

“And I found that working over the course of my career, working with older individuals was really what I enjoyed most,” mentioned VanEtten.

“I was able to learn in those sessions as much from you as I was able to teach you and being able to help those individuals recover and do those independent functional mobilities like go to the bathroom by themselves or get dressed by themselves that is where I found joy in my work.”

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VanEtten shared her ice hockey career with more than 50 Oak Hammock residents as a way to promote the benefits physical therapy offers. She’s now the physical therapy director at the retirement community.

“And I think it’s going to make a big effect on the rehab group here at Oak Hammock,” said Resident Pat Collier. She mentioned how she resonated with VanEtten as her own daughter faced challenges reaching Olympic goals. After hearing VanEtten’s story, residents dressed the part with her Olympic jersey, silver medal and championship rings.

“I think this would be a story that should be told to all young people who are involved in sports. Yes, they work hard, it’s very difficult sometimes they come up on the winning end and sometimes they have to cope with the adversity along the way,” said Collier.

“This young woman is definitely teaching them a lesson.”

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