THOSE WHO PERSEVERE: ROBYN KRATENSTEIN

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

The Class of 2000 in American scholastic field hockey has its share of skilled athletes, hard strikers, mobile midfielders, and solid goalkeepers.

Robyn Kratenstein is the first to admit that she may not belong in the higher echelons of what could be the deepest recruiting class in the 1990s -- "I'm not super-good," she says.

But when you consider what she has had to go through in order to get where she is -- member of a Gaithersburg Quince Orchard (Md.) field hockey team which won the Class 4A West Championship in 1998 -- the term "super-good" has to apply somewhere.

Kratenstein, a junior winger, was born without a left hand. That she is playing field hockey at all, much less getting playing time on a championship-caliber varsity program, is a testament to her intellect, tenacity, and commitment to the game.

"You wouldn't think that, because I have one hand, I'd be able to play," she says. "It's kind of a big barrier: you need two hands. But it goes to show you can do anything you put your mind to, and if you want to do it, you're going to find a way to do it."

She tells the story of her first day on this earth as an illustration.

"The doctors came to her and said, 'There's a problem, ma'am,' " Kratenstein says. "And she says, "Oh, no! What's wrong with my baby?' And they're like, 'She's missing a hand.' And she's like, 'Oh, I thought she was really sick or something.' It was not that big a deal, and that's been the attitude that it's been, forever."

Over the years, she has received remarkable understanding and caring at home and from her peers.

"It must have been hard for my family," she says. "But my brother never mentioned it and made a big deal out of it. That was pretty cool."

Robyn Kratenstein does not put herself in the categories society has made for her: handicapped, amputee, disabled, victim. She has not dwelt on her condition, and has not worn a prosthesis in several years.

"With my mom looking at it being nothing, made me think, 'Well, it's nothing, and I can do anything anyone else can do,' " Kratenstein says. "She never made it an issue, so it never was an issue."

And if it ever was, Robyn Kratenstein finds a way around it. Such is the way she has been able to play the game of field hockey with one hand. Her first day of practice, she tried to hold the top end of the stick in the crook of her elbow while controlling the head. The struggle was noticable.

"I really, really wanted to play," she recalls. "I told my coach, 'I have an idea of, maybe, something that looks like a cupholder.' "

With that, the idea for Robyn's Cup was born. The device, which helps fasten a stick to her left arm, has undergone several incarnations since its debut her freshman year. A patent is pending.

"Now, it's perfect, and it doesn't wobble, and it doesn't crack," Kratenstein says. "It gives me all the control and power I need. The Cup allows me to have what everyone else has."

That is, the ability to shoot the ball hard and, potentially, to exercise stick control superior to her peers because of the lack of wrist stress on the top end of the stick. On the field, her skills and shiftiness are remarkable.

Kratenstein seems to be just your normal field hockey player, which is all she asks of those who would watch a Quince Orchard game.

"I really don't think it's any different," she says. "My stick blends in with my arm so that other teams don't notice it unless the referees tell the captains that I use a special device. Others don't see me as a one-handed player. It's not a big part of my life; I do everything they do. It's not a big deal."

Indeed, one of her biggest strengths is her willingness to give anything her best effort, no matter what the situation or task is set before her.

"Whatever my coach says, to improve my game, I really try," Kratenstein says. "There was never a time when I said, 'I can't do that.' "

Others have noticed what she has accomplished. Within her school district, she has been recruited for motivational talks with elementary school students because of her work in the district's child development program. This program, where high-school students earn credits, has helped fire Kratenstein's interest in working with children in later life, as she would eventually like to enter the medical profession, specializing in the treatment of childhood leukemia.

She is looking at colleges where she can not only go through a good pre-med program, but one which will allow her to pursue field hockey on a varsity or club level. Her love for the game of field hockey has blossomed over the past couple of years, especially as Quince Orchard went from a sub-.500 team to winning the 4A West final.

"(Winning) gives you something in your heart, and it makes you love the game so much more," Kratenstein says. "We all wanted to win, but we knew we gave it all we could (in a loss to Rockville Magruder in strokes in the Class 4A semifinals). And it gave me a sense of why I love field hockey so much. It makes me feel good to play: it keeps me fit, and I like the competition."

So, is there anything Robyn Kratenstein can't do?

"The monkey bars (on the local playground)," she admits. "I can't do that swingy thing under them. But I can get up and walk across the top of them."

Just another obstacle for this super-good young woman to overcome.

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