Despite the CF diagnosis, Conklin makes it look easy. She glides over the pitch, moving effortlessly in an incredibly demanding position – midfield – running an average of six miles during the course of a game.
“I had no idea about her condition until her parents told me,” says head coach Donna Hornibrook. “I had seen her play in high school and thought she was outstanding. There was nothing about her play that indicated that she had a problem with her lungs. But her parents were very up front about it and told me she had CF the very first time we spoke.”
Being honest about her condition during the recruiting process was a top priority for Conklin. While the news wasn’t well-received by every coaching staff she told, the Cornell staff was unfazed by the revelation.
“I didn’t have any reservations about Maddy,” says Hornibrook. “I had no way of knowing if she would be an every-day, every-minute player, but I thought even if she needed to come off the bench or play limited minutes, she was still going to be a really solid addition for us. And it turns out we were right.”
Conklin just wrapped up an outstanding freshman campaign with the Big Red. She played in all 17 games, averaging more than 40 minutes per contest, and she started seven of Cornell’s final nine games of the season.
“Day-to-day she doesn’t make it a factor,” says Hornibook. “She lives her life quietly and goes on with it. She doesn’t let CF hold her back from anything she wants to do, which is amazing. I think she’s really very inspirational.”
Since her diagnosis, Conklin has actively tried to inspire others, mostly as a Cohen Children's Hospital ambassador.
“My biggest thing is showing other children that you shouldn’t let something stop you,” she says. “You can still do what you love.”
Conklin is also an active fundraiser for Make-A-Wish, and she spent her senior year in high school as an intern with the organization. Her connection with the foundation began a year after her diagnosis when she was granted a wish for a family vacation in Hawaii.
After the once-in-a-lifetime experience of surfing, swimming with dolphins, and scuba diving, Conklin and her sister Frankie have consistently held fundraising events so that others can have a similar opportunity.
Each year, the pair organizes a team to participate in the Walk For Wishes, while also organizing events around North Shore High School field hockey and lacrosse games. During her internship, she assisted with the Macy’s Believe Campaign.
“Hawaii was such an amazing experience that I wanted to give back,” Conklin says. “By working with Make-A-Wish, I can set an example for other children.”
Between her diagnosis and her desire to inspire children, it’s no surprise that Conklin is majoring in Biology and Society, with tentative plans to attend medical school. While she hasn’t decided on what type of doctor she wants to be, she is leaning toward something that involves children.
Until then, she will continue to do her daily treatments, focus on her school work, and continue to grow as a field hockey player. And she will do it all while focusing on the positive and defying expectations.
“When people find out that I have CF, their first response is always ‘Oh no. I never would have known. That’s terrible,’” says Conklin. “But there are people in such worse situations. And someday that could be me, but I’m so on top of my medicine and treatments.
“I just don’t let CF stop me.”