By Aniesa HolmesOctober 16, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga., (Oct. 16, 2013) -- When Staff Sgt. Kathleen Hedges became a "Sergeant Airborne" for B Company, 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 18 months ago, she said she was driven by a desire to see Soldiers reach highest potential in the Army.
At the end of the day, she exchanges her black hat for a helmet as a hockey coach for young athletes, driven by the same desire to see them reach their highest abilities in the sport.
With long hours and a tight schedule, Hedges balances her life as an Airborne instructor and dedicates at least six hours per week as a volunteer coach for athletes ages 14 and younger at the Columbus Ice Rink
Although she is often unable to select her geographical location because of her Army career, Hedges said she always searches for a way back to her first love as a hockey player. With a growing popularity in the sport among Columbus residents, Hedges said she decided to use her talents to mentor youth teams and train kids privately for the Columbus Hockey Association. Known as "Coach Kate" on the ice, Hedges said she uses a firm, yet understanding approach with her players.
"I was raised with a really strong hand from my coaches, you push hard because that's what a hockey player does," Hedges said. "I try to come at them like that, but there's definitely times when I have to catch myself and remember that they're not Soldiers, they're kids trying to be athletes."
The youngest of five, Hedges grew up in a family of hockey players in Rochester, Mass. With supportive parents and three siblings active in the sport, Hedges said she knew it was a path she was destined to follow.
"It was family sport, so it was passed down and that's what we did and it was the culture I was raised in," Hedges said. "I skated since I was three, played since I was four and was a goalie since I was eight. I've also coached throughout the years."
Hedges said she mostly played among male teams throughout school and two women's teams in college. When she decided to join the Army, her family upbringing and ability to thrive in male-dominated arenas proved to be an asset.
"Being the youngest, there was always a sense that I had to prove myself," Hedges said. "You always have a lot to learn watching you're older siblings and finding that there's a right and wrong way to live."
Now in her second year as a coach officially registered with the U.S. Hockey Association, Hedges said she is fueled by her own experiences to provide quality and affordable lessons for children in the area.
"My goal is to give kids an opportunity that they otherwise might not have, especially in the South and with the economy being the way that it is," she said. "Some kids are in it for the fun and some want to go on to play for college. There's no reason they can't wish or hope and learn work ethic and values through having to build their desires as an athlete and as a person."
Hedges said hockey is a mentally and physically challenging sport that develops balance, coordination, strength and confidence even beyond the ice.
"It's takes commitment, and I have to turn those natural athletes into skilled hockey players," she said. "It really comes out in their school work. I have parents tell me how well they do in school."
Hedges has also channeled that same training into developing an adult fitness program, coaching the parents of her players in hockey and encouraging them to set positive examples for their children.
"I really wanted to push the message out to the parents to stay in shape," Hedges said. "If you can find out how to reach an individual, that's great because you can find their skills and effort that they didn't know they had. When it starts to come to life, that's where the rewards come in."
Hedges said she hopes to continue the balance of her career and coaching, helping Soldiers and young athletes reach their goals.
"This is a reward that you can't get there," Hedges said. "It's a balancing act and it can be frustrating, but you just go out there and do it again."