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Good thing, small package

St. Cloud State’s Katie Fitzgerald excels after an early start to life

By David Pickle
NCAA.org

Nobody needs to tell Katie Fitzgerald about the importance of “team.” She’s been a team member from Day 1.

Those teams have included family, youth sports, high school sports and now St. Cloud State, where she is a freshman goalie for the Huskies’ Division I ice hockey program.
But the most important team was the one she joined on the first day of her life. That’s because Katie entered the world 14 weeks early, weighing 1 pound, 11 ounces. From before the moment she was born, Katie was the focus of a medical team dedicated to her survival and well-being.

“They weren’t sure I was going to develop properly,” she said. “They gave me a 10 percent chance of survival.”

Katie’s mother, Mary, was preeclamptic, meaning her blood pressure soared to dangerous levels during pregnancy. After Katie was delivered (she actually lost a little weight from her 27-ounce starting point), the doctors shared the 10 percent prognosis with Mary and husband Bill.

“It was a day-to-day worry,” Mary said, “but the doctors and the team with Katie just kept us focused on the next day and the next day.”

Katie was hospitalized for four months after birth. After that came another six months in the neonatal intensive care follow-up care clinic, a shorter than normal stay. By her 10th month, Katie was completely home and living a normal life. She was still quite small, and the family assumed she would stay that way.

“We thought she was going to be our petite little Katie,” Mary said. “When she started to walk, she was so small that she could walk under every table in the house. So she was fun.”

By age 5, Katie was healthy in every way, although she remained small. One day she picked up a pair of hockey skates because her brother Ian played the sport. Although she played many other sports, hockey was her passion from that moment forward. In any case, because of her size, it appeared throughout grade school that sports would be more of an activity than a serious pursuit.

“My coaches kept naming me ‘Peanut’ because I was the smallest,” she said. Nobody calls her Peanut anymore. At 5-foot-11, Katie is the tallest player on the St. Cloud State team. Not only is she big and athletic, she is also skilled. She was named her conference’s rookie of the week right off the bat.

All of this leaves Mary marveling at everything her daughter overcame. But once the odds were beaten, Katie became just another kid.

“We always let Katie know that we absolutely expected her to go to college,” Mary said. “When she started her letter-writing and started getting responses back from a few of the colleges, she really pushed us to make sure we took her out to St. Cloud State right away. She was so excited with that contact, and we were thrilled with the offer. I never dreamed that it would have come true.”