Jackie Kilar of Women’s Ice Hockey Develops New Strength and Perspective on Life

Photo by Lianne Yun '18
Photo by Lianne Yun '18

By Trevor Wenners
Athletic Communications Assistant

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – Many times in sports, people only think about athletes in regards to their craft, failing to see the unbelievable storylines that have made them into the individuals they are today.

Many people have gotten to know Jackie Kilar of the Wesleyan University women's ice hockey team as a lockdown defender, who is highly skilled in the offensive zone with her outstanding shot from the point and passing ability, but her personal off-the-ice story truly defines her character and strength, along with her entire family.

Jackie Kilar is lending a helping hand to families, who have been impacted by cancer.

During Kilar's sophomore year in high school at John Stark Regional in Weare, N.H., 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 recalled.

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

The sad event opened Kilar's eyes to a world she barely knew, as she developed an intense passion for the medical field and cancer research. She is dedicated to using her mindfulness and vision to help other families, who are battling through a similar predicament, while her immediate and hockey families have been key components in the process as well.

"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 (https://middlesexcountycf.org/ways-to-give/become-a-donor/fund-catalog/donor-advised/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."

For Kilar, this whole process has been emotionally stimulating, and has provided her with a bigger-picture view every time she puts on her uniform. 

It is easy to think when the puck gets dropped, the first pitch gets thrown out, the opening kickoff occurs or the referee throws up the jump ball, that the only thing that matters is winning and losing. Everyone's competitive nature comes into play, and society often fails to see the ultimate value of sports, which is the lifelong connections it establishes and the lessons it teaches.

"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 in her junior year. "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."

On the ice this winter, Kilar has compiled three assists so far, as Wesleyan (2-3-2, 0-0-2 NESCAC) has gone 2-0-2 at the Spurrier-Snyder Rink. She was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to engage in a Q&A segment.

Q: Could you talk about your history with the sport of ice hockey and why it stuck with you?

A: For as long as I can remember, I have been playing ice hockey. Both my father and my older brother 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.

Q: In addition to being an outstanding athletic school, Wesleyan has a strong commitment to academics. How have you balanced those two disciplines, 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 schoolwork 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.