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12/15/2021 11:00 PM

Spaulding Appreciates Her Teammates’ Support

Caroline Spaulding had to stop playing soccer at one point due to her Crohn’s disease diagnosis, so it means a lot to her that she helped the Hornets have a great season as a senior this year. Photo courtesy of Caroline Spaulding

At the age of 10, Branford’s Caroline Spaulding was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, forcing her to step away from both the soccer field and dance floor. However, despite the diagnosis, Caroline never gave up and, with the help of her teammates, she finished out her senior season as a member of the Branford girls’ soccer team this year.

Caroline started playing soccer in Branford’s town league at age three. Caroline was encouraged to play by her parents, Erin and Mike, who had previously been soccer players and fostered her love of the sport with their constant support.

“My parents played soccer growing up. They put me in it to have that involvement as a child and form friendships,” says Caroline. “They were definitely supportive. They brought me to all my practices and games growing up. They were always on the sidelines supporting me and cheering Branford on.”

Caroline enjoyed soccer from the first day she started playing. She liked how it’s an active sport where she was able to run up and down the field. Unfortunately, when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, her doctors told her that she had to stop playing sports.

Being away from the field made Caroline realize how much she appreciated soccer. It was hard on her to not be able to do the things she loved. However, after a few months, Caroline’s doctors gave her the OK to return to the pitch. Caroline felt overwhelmed at first, but once she got back out there, Caroline saw strong of a person and player she truly was.

“It was very overwhelming, especially with how much I appreciate soccer. I was still recovering from everything. I wasn’t my best,” Caroline says. “Dealing with those emotions, but still playing the sport, made everything much better.”

When she was in 6th grade at Walsh Intermediate School, Caroline was on a breathing tube due to her diagnosis. Caroline’s tube was intertwined with her hair, and she remembers her friends and teammates telling her how cool they thought it looked. At the end of the season, they all pitched in to get her a Branford soccer bag. As she battled through Crohn’s disease, Caroline’s cohorts never left her side.

“It means so much to me knowing that my teammates, coaches, and forever friends will always have my back,” says Caroline. “I can always come to them no matter what. I know that they’ll have so much support for me.”

Caroline joined the Branford girls’ soccer team as a freshman and competed for the JV squad that season. Caroline played midfielder and striker and, with her small stature, she was able to maneuver around taller defenders and work toward getting the best possible scoring opportunity for the Hornets. Caroline says that her freshman year was tough, but that her coaches did everything they could to help everyone succeed.

“It was definitely more intense,” Caroline says regarding high school soccer. “Our coaches were super supportive, but also wanted us to continue growing as a player, even at the JV level.”

Caroline always looked up to the Hornets’ older athletes for guidance as she rose through the program. When she reached her senior season, Caroline was elevated to Branford’s varsity roster and helped the Hornets have a solid year that saw them earn 12 wins and make the state quarterfinals. Caroline still keeps in contact with many of her former teammates and says that their leadership helped her become more assertive on the field.

“As a freshman, I was definitely more on the quiet side. I was learning from my coaches and my teammates who were upperclassmen. I took that skill into my senior year,” says Caroline. “They’re all graduated, but I still talk to them. I became more aggressive on the field and definitely more vocal.”

Head Coach Jen Kohut knew Caroline before she played for the Hornets after having coached her older sister Katie Spaulding, a former team captain. As she’s watched Caroline grow over the years, Kohut says the senior has become an athlete who shows resilience and passion every single day.

“I have watched Caroline grow from a young, quiet athlete into a stronger, more confident senior athlete. She has shown our team both courage and resilience as she competes each day despite her illness,” Kohut says. “Caroline is a very sweet girl and a very skilled soccer player. She has been a pleasure to coach for the past four years and a pleasure to know for the past eight. I know she will do great things.”

In addition to soccer, Caroline also started performing ballet when she was three years old. Currently, she performs out of Starship Dance Studio in Guilford. Caroline says that ballet has helped her with her balance on the soccer field and allows her to be more graceful when attacking the ball.

After graduation, Caroline plans on attending college and majoring in therapeutic recreation. She wants to continue playing soccer at the club level and is considering minoring in dance.

Sometimes during soccer practices, Caroline would feel weak and was unable to give her full effort. During those times, Caroline’s teammates always supported her, never judged her, and continued viewing her as a good teammate. By playing soccer for the Hornets, Caroline was able to express herself through a sport she loves, while learning how to stay strong and battle past any obstacle in her path.

“It’s a voice in my head that says keep going,” says Caroline. “Keep doing the things you love, even though this condition weighs you down.”