Nursing student Sarah Carlson: "You realize how much you have, and that God's given you the ability to play. When someone else can't, or when someone is hurt, you ask, 'How can I help them have the joy I feel?'"
Giving It '100 Percent,' On and Off the Ice
Sarah Carlson excels as a hockey player and as a humanitarian
By Mark Sullivan
Sarah Carlson's is a muscular Christianity. The Boston College Women's Ice Hockey captain whose faith-inspired good works have led her to be nominated for the Hockey Humanitarian Award acknowledges she leads the team in penalty minutes.
"I grew up with guys' hockey," the senior defenseman, who played on the boys' team at her Alaska high school, says with a smile. "It's a very physical game. When you get on the ice, you play to compete. You play to win."
Carlson, a nursing student on clinical assignment to the pediatric emergency room at Boston Medical Center, has thrown herself with equal gusto into the service of others.
She has helped organize dance marathons and sled hockey games to benefit sick children, and volunteered her energies to charitable causes ranging from Latin American health clinics to Boston soup kitchens, all while maintaining a 3.7 grade-point average on the Dean's List at the Connell School of Nursing.
For her efforts, Carlson has been chosen one of five finalists for the annual honor given by the Hockey Humanitarian Foundation. The 10th recipient of the Hockey Humanitarian Award will be announced April 8 during the NCAA Frozen Four in Columbus, Ohio.
"No matter what she does, she does it 100 percent," said BC Women's Ice Hockey Coach Tom Mutch, who called Carlson "one of the most talented people" he'd ever met, noting not only her generous spirit off and on the ice, but her singing talent: "She's sung the National Anthem for us a couple times," he said.
Mutch added, "She's a special person, devoted entirely to helping others. She puts everybody ahead of herself, making sure they're comfortable, they're healthy, and that they have a smile on their face."
Carlson said: "One thing my mother taught me: Wherever you're at, give it all you've got, whether on the ice or a soup drive.
"You realize how much you have, and that God's given you the ability to play. When someone else can't, or when someone is hurt, you ask, 'How can I help them have the joy I feel?'
"I've experienced such love from family and from faith in God, I want to share that with others," she said. "Service - wanting to help people - is about a heart wanting to help others."
Carlson aspires to be a nurse practitioner and to work for a missionary relief organization in Latin America. She already has volunteered at an orphanage in Ecuador and at a dental clinic in the Dominican Republic, and this past summer helped build a church and taught in a vacation Bible school in Mexico.
"I wish I were two years ahead and could go to Indonesia and help," she said in an interview after the recent tsunami in South Asia.
On campus, she has captained the morale team that keeps spirits from flagging in the annual Dance Marathon to benefit Children's Hospital [see related story]. She is active in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational Christian youth group, and has worked with children at a camp for the handicapped and in an inner-city after-school program.
Next month, she and the Women's Ice Hockey squad play a team from the Massachusetts Hospital School in a sled hockey game to benefit the school for youngsters with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.
The game is set for March 15 from 7:30-10:30 p.m. at Conte Forum. It's the second year in a row Women's Ice Hockey has played to benefit the Hospital School, at which Carlson has worked on clinical assignment as a student nurse.
Carlson's background sounds like a real-life version of the movie "Mystery, Alaska." She grew up the eldest of seven children in Copper Center, Alaska, a community of about 400 people five hours' drive from Anchorage (to which her family travels once a month for groceries).
Her father is principal of the combined elementary and high school at Kenny Lake, where Carlson was one of eight students in her graduating class and played on the boys' hockey team, not unusual at a small school in a place where the ponds are frozen from late October through March. Three of her younger siblings - a brother and twin sisters - are skating on the Kenny Lake team this year.
What brought an evangelical Protestant with an altruistic spirit and a slap-shot 3,500 miles from the Alaskan outback to Jesuit Boston College?
"I knew I wanted to play hockey, and was interested in coming to the East Coast," she said. "I wanted the city experience, having grown up in a small town. I've absolutely loved it. I wouldn't trade my time here for anything.
"Going far away to school, you realize who you are, and what's important to you. What are important to me are my love for people, and my love for God. This school has allowed me to put those things together."