Cadet hockey player’s injury fuels motivation for women’s team

The NU women's hockey team poses with injured player Liz Gemmiti, center, who was hit by a car allegedly driven by a drunk driver in December.

The NU women’s hockey team poses with injured player Liz Gemmiti, center, who was hit by a car allegedly driven by a drunk driver in December.

For the Norwich Women’s Ice Hockey team, the season has been an “emotional roller coaster,” and has changed their perspective on the game as a result of the accident that ended one of their own players hockey career. However, players say the team has grown closer and is more motivated than ever as a result.

For Liz Gemmiti, 21, a senior business major from Toronto, Ontario, her 2013-2014 season came to an unexpected end when she was hit by a car Dec. 14 while walking home with her roommate and teammate, Madison Gallagher.

Gemmiti’s teammates were stunned when they heard the news about their teammate, who plays defense for the women Cadets. “I just remember being really shocked and really angry when I found out,” said Elle Kadel, 21, a senior history major from Fairbanks, Ala.

Emily MacKinnon, 22, a senior criminal justice major from Montreal, Quebec, was also distraught. “I was just about to head home when I got text messages and phone calls from Madison Gallagher,” she said. “And to be honest, I thought she was joking around because I couldn’t imagine that happening to anyone, especially someone close to me, and I was in shock so I got in the car and my dad took me to the hospital.”

Other teammates, like Alison Green, 19, a sophomore sports medicine major from Massena, N.Y., had to wait to see Gemmiti due to finals for classes. “At first I was like ‘this isn’t real this must be a joke’ or something, but when we realized it wasn’t we instantly just wanted to go see her and support her. But I couldn’t because of my final that day.”

Besides Gemmiti’s teammates, her roommate Victoria Sohn, 19, a sophomore athletic training major from Embrun, Ontario, was in a “panic” when she heard the news. “I didn’t really have time to be upset, I just started freaking out and started getting dressed and was about to get in my car to go see Liz in Burlington, but heard she wasn’t allowed any more visitors at the time.”

Some of the women’s team members were already home for winter break when they heard the news. Kayla Lascelle, 22, a senior sports medicine major from Cornwall, Ontario, said, “I was in utter shock. I started calling all the girls that I knew hadn’t heard, and wanted to get as much information as I could. I was going on a vacation and it really sucked being away. I wanted to be back to show her my support. It was hard to hear that in an airport.”

Adelle Murphy, 20, a freshman majoring in athletic training, was back in Roseau, Minn., when she heard about her teammate.

“I was with my parents when I got the phone call. I couldn’t believe it, and I didn’t want to believe something like that could happen,” Murphy said of that night.

According to the Northfield police, at approximately 2:20 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, the Northfield Police Department was notified of a crash that occurred on Vermont Route 12 South, close to Village Pizza. The caller reported that her friend [Gemmiti] had been hit by a car.

The driver of the vehicle, James Lott, a Northfield resident, was taken into custody and processed for driving while under the influence. Lott appeared in Washington Country Criminal Court Monday, Dec. 16 and pleaded not guilty to two counts of driving under the influence and causing serious bodily injuries.

If convicted, Lott could face a maximum of 15 years in prison, according to comments by Washington County State’s Attorney Thomas Kelly on WPTZ.com.

Gemmiti suffered serious injuries in the accident, breaking both bones in one leg, and sustaining tears to her ligaments, along with “a brain bleed and concussion as well as a minor spleen laceration.” A huge gash on her right upper thigh required more than 200 stitches, she said.

The accident left her hospitalized for five days, two in the intensive care unit at the Fletcher Allen Medical Center in Burlington,, before she returned to Toronto to start her recovery.

The news of the accident left her teammates stunned. “It’s like stuff you hear about that you aren’t directly related to so that was really shocking,” Kadel said. Like Kadel, MacKinnon could not believe something like this could happen to someone close to her.

“It’s really upsetting to know that someone would drink and drive, and even more upsetting to know the process that went behind it like the denial, and it kind of hit home because she is a part of our family on the hockey team, and you never want to wish that upon anyone,” MacKinnon said.

Sophie Leclerc, ’10, the assistant coach, had a similar response. “My initial reaction was that you can’t believe this happens to anybody, let alone somebody that you know so well and somebody that really, really doesn’t deserve something like this,” she said.

Leclerc said the accident put things in perspective not only for the team, but the NU community as well. “She’s lucky she is alive. It was a shock and it really puts things in perspective and it kind of makes you be more aware of the surroundings and even though we live in a small town, terrible things can still happen to really good people,” Leclerc said.

The accident has given the team a different outlook on the game. “On the ice, we all have her number on our helmets, so we all have something more to play for other than a championship. We are playing for her knowing that she wants to be with us,” said Haley Gibson, 21, a senior sports medicine major from Richmond, Ontario.

The accident has made the team work harder to win and to play every game like it could be their last.

“I think on the ice you see how easily something like that could happen where your season or career can be taken away from you and it makes you push that much harder every time you are on the ice,” said Brittany Sharman, 21, a senior majoring in physical education from Ayer’s Cliff, Quebec.

Besides the team perspectives changing on the ice, the team has also responded off the ice. “I feel like we have all grown closer together as a family. Everyone cares about each other a lot more, and everyone is more concerned about each other. We are more self-aware,” Gibson said.

Though Gibson said the has become closer together, Mackinnon points out that the incident has affected them individually as well.

“I mean, it just puts life into perspective on how short or how easy something can be taken away from you that you love,” Mackinnon said. She added, “You just have to take it at face value and appreciate every little thing.”

Maggie Cross, 19, a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major, agreed. “It makes me think about things and being more safe and making sure to walk on well lit sidewalks,” Cross said, noting she’s now more cautious when out walking around town.

Madison Gallagher, 21 a sophomore majoring in accounting and business management from Montreal, Quebec, also finds herself impacted daily by the accident because people came to her to find out what occurred.

“The only difficulties I have really had is that people didn’t know that I was with her [the night of the accident] and because of that people would ask me what happened and they heard it was a girl on the team, but I wasn’t at a point where I was ready to talk about it yet,” Gallagher said.

“It was just hard for me to kind of adjust and understand that these questions weren’t meant to upset me but at the same time I didn’t want to be rude and not answer and get upset in front of them,” Gallagher said.

With the passage of time, however, Gallagher has found some of her initial anger easing.

“At this point I’m not angry, I feel guilty about some things. I feel like I should be angry at him, but because of how Liz has reacted to the whole thing it’s kind of something that is out of your control, and she’s taking it in a light where she couldn’t do anything about the situation so she’s making the best of her situation now,” Gallagher said.

It is Gemmiti’s positive outlook that helps Gallagher and the rest of her teammates deal with the aftershock of it all.

“Her strength through all of this has made me feel better about the whole thing. I’ve had very mixed feelings about the accident basically since it’s happened because she did push me out of the way, but she keeps reassuring me,” Gallagher said.

“Honestly, I don’t think anyone could be in such high spirits after everything that has happened. It’s the same Liz and maybe even more positive than before,” Mackinnon said.

Lascelle agrees that her good spirits since the accident are inspiring. “[She’s] making sure everyone around her knows she’s okay so we aren’t worried about her, and I think that’s her goal to make sure we are all okay with everything, and with her in good spirits it makes everyone else feel better about the whole situation,” Lascelle said.

For Gemmiti, who faces a long recovery, she doesn’t want people to treat her differently because of the accident and finds there is no other choice but to be positive throughout her recovery.

“I think that if I was negative people wouldn’t want to be around me, and being negative isn’t going to change the situation, and it is what it is.” Gemmiti said.

“At times it’s hard to stay happy and positive but by doing so I’m trying to do it so my teammates don’t pity me and I don’t want anyone to treat me differently,” Gemmiti said. She added, “Obviously there are times when I need help, but I want them to see me as the same person, and staying positive helps the recovery process.”

According to Gemmiti, her recovery is expected to take 8-12 months and doctors have advised her that she may have to give up contact sports. She is trying to wean herself off using crutches and got some good news this week from her doctors that she may not need ligament surgery on her knee.

Since being back at school, Gemmiti has gone to every practice where she has sat on the bench to support her teammates. She has also made it on all the road trips.

Yet, Gemmiti admits she does have days when she is doing her best to stay positive for her team.

“The coaches were happy with the way I was playing and I thought I was playing well. I definitely feel angry at times and disappointed because it was out of my control what happened,” Gemmiti said.

Since the accident, Gemmiti has received nothing but support from her teammates. “I think the team has been amazing about the accident, I don’t think I could have thought of a better response. They took it upon themselves to go visit her as soon as they could, and that was every single one of us,” Gallagher said. “Actually my phone stopped working at one point because of all the texts I was getting from the team to the point where we actually sent a video of Liz in the hospital to show she was okay.”

“As a team, we wanted to replace as much as we could like all the stuff that had been ruined in the accident. So we came together as a team and tried to pay back as much as we could for her,” Lascelle said.

Lascelle and other teammates also contacted the clothing company Lululemon in hopes of replacing her yoga pants that ripped from the accident. The company responded back with a hand-written note wishing Gemmiti as well as the team their best, and sent a care package for Gemmiti that included a new pair of yoga pants, four headbands and a shirt.

Because Gemmiti is on crutches and without a car, the team also set up group messaging so teammates with cars can pick her up from class and bring her home or to doctor appointments. Gemmiti also said her roommate Victoria Sohn has been very helpful bringing her to classes and driving her around.

Besides the team doing its best to show support for Gemmiti, Leclerc thinks the situation is something the team and the rest of the coaching staff can build around.

“[It is] taking a terrible experience and using it as a tool that the team can really rally around and move forward to bring the team closer together,” Leclerc said. She added that seeing Gemmiti on the bench ever day supporting the team really puts things into perspective when looking at a “kid like that who would do anything to be out there.”

Gemmiti has received a lot of support well beyond her teammates.

“President Schneider has been really awesome and so has Martha Mathis, the dean of students, she’s been helping me with my appointments and stuff like that. Even the teachers have been accommodating,” Gemmiti said.

The hockey community has also shown its support far beyond Norwich. “I had people reaching out to me from all over, like people I didn’t even know emailing me from teams saying ‘hey I heard about your teammate and we are just wishing her and your teammates well’,” Mackinnon said.

“The people back home from Ottawa who don’t even know her have come up to me and have been like, ‘I heard about your teammate I hope she is doing okay.’ We’ve reached out to Luke Richardson, who is the coach of the Binghamton Senators team, and he spoke about her,” Gibson said.

Though she can no longer play the rest of the season, Gemmiti supports her team and is looking to them to give it all they have to win the national championship.

“I would like to see them playing like it’s their last game, and I didn’t really play like that and I don’t get to play anymore, so I’m regretting it because I definitely could have left more on the ice, “Gemmiti said. She added, “I would love to win a national championship and I think the girls obviously do to, and I think the best thing for them is to leave it all on the ice, and just give it everything they got.”

Through it all, Gemmiti has been the rock for her team, staying positive and never complaining about her situation, and her team has changed their outlook on life and the game.

“I don’t know how I would be able to handle my life changing that dramatically in such a short period of time because I can’t imagine something that I loved my entire life, something I based my college choice around, something I look forward to or despise everyday, something that literally impacts my emotions so deeply, like hockey, imagine that one thing getting taken away, like that one thing that’s always been there, and she’s been that strong to pull through,” Gallagher said.

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