Weare’s Jackie Kilar, a member of the Wesleyan women’s hockey team, is making a difference on and off the ice

  • John Stark graduate Jackie Kilar (17) is a junior defenseman on the Wesleyan University women’s hockey team who has joined the fight against cancer after losing her mother, Joan, to the disease. Kilar is raising money through the Joan B. Kilar Fund to, as she said, “support programs and services for families going through cancer treatments, as well as health and well-being educational programs for the community at large.” LIANNE YUN / Courtesy

  • John Stark graduate Jackie Kilar skates with the puck for the Wesleyan University women’s ice hockey team. LIANNE YUN / Courtesy

  • Kilar

For the Monitor
Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ever since arriving at Wesleyan University three years ago, Jackie Kilar has made a name for herself as a lockdown defender who also possesses a complete set of offensive zone skills. Kilar, a John Stark graduate who is now a college junior, is still helping the Cardinals battle on the ice, but she’s also turned her attention to an off-ice battle that dwarfs all sports – fighting cancer.

When Kilar was a sophomore at John Stark, her mother, Joan, was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer.

“The days after that became a fixed pattern of going from classes, sports and the college search to doctors’ appointments, along with radiation and chemotherapy treatment,” Kilar said.

Less than a year after being diagnosed, Joan passed away, but her courageous response through the entire process left a defining mark on Jackie. She has gained a new appreciation for the small things in life and now strives to never take any moment for granted.

Jackie Kilar has also developed an intense passion for the medical field and cancer research. With her immediate family and her hockey team by her side in full support, Kilar is determined to help other families who are coping with the disease that took her mother.

“I learned that the collaboration of families and communities can bring about so many life-changing opportunities for each,” Kilar said. “With my mother as the starting point, and with my teammates by my side, I am excited to help other families battling cancer and give them the tools to become the strongest fighters they can be through the Joan B. Kilar Fund. This fund aims to support programs and services for families going through cancer treatments, as well as health and well-being educational programs for the community at large.”

Kilar has gained a big-picture perspective about the sport she loves through this entire process. And that change in perspective began years ago with some words of wisdom from her mother.

“One of the last pieces of advice my mother said to me was that, ‘There is more to life than hockey,’ ” said Kilar, who is currently studying biology. “I did not fully understand why she would have to say this to me, but as a I reflect on her words now, almost four years later, I can see how little the actual game of hockey matters.

“What matters is the people and lifelong friendships you create through the game, and the mindsets of determination and grit you acquire along the way. These are the things that can and will bring people the most joy in life.”

Kilar has three assists so far this season for Wesleyan (2-4-2, 0-0- 2 NESCAC). And she found time to answer some questions for the following Q&A:

Q: What is your history with the sport of ice hockey, and why did it stick with you?

A: For as long as I can remember, I have been playing ice hockey. Both my father (Tim) and my older brother (Patrick) played, so it only felt natural to follow in their footsteps. Having the luxury of a pond in my backyard, when it froze there would rarely be a day that I would not be on it, trying to be just like my dad and brother. There is something about the game of hockey that no other sport could ever match. It makes all your other problems feel irrelevant, and all that matters is you and your teammates. That feeling is something that my dad knew all too well and is why he pushed me to continue to play despite the financial sacrifices it took to do so.

Q: What was it like growing up in New Hampshire?

A: Hands down, I would never wish to change where I came from. New Hampshire and the people who call it home have taught me the value of hard work and how much it can open doors for you. They are humbling and bold just like the state’s motto: Live Free or Die. They have taught me that there is more to life than materialistic things, and to work smarter, not harder. I owe my honest and down-to-earth nature to the Granite State.

Q: After getting a taste of postseason hockey last winter, how much is that motivating the team to get back to that place?

A: Making playoffs last season was a step in the right direction for the program. As a team, we know our level of strength and abilities, and believe that, with no strays from our work ethic, we should finish in the same seed as last year, if not higher. (Wesleyan was the No. 8 seed in the NESCAC tournament and finished the season 7-12-5).

Q: How have you balanced academics and athletics at Wesleyan, and what are your post-graduation plans?

A: After graduation, I am aiming to get my doctorate in physical therapy. Hockey in high school was a huge time commitment, and learning how to balance school work and friends became a necessity. In my junior year of college, I have really gotten to know myself and my limits for how much time I can devote to each, which is something that has taken practice to perfect.

Q: With Christmas right around the corner, what is the best gift you have ever received?

A: The best gift I have received was the opportunity to attend Wesleyan and play ice hockey at the collegiate level. As we go about our day-to-day lives, we take for granted a lot of the opportunities that have been handed to us. I for one would have never been given these opportunities without the countless sacrifices my parents have made for me time and time again.

(Trevor Wenners is an Athletic Communications Assistant at Wesleyan University and can be reached at twenners@wesleyan.edu.)