Making Their Mark

How six high school athletes strive toward their personal bests.
Kitty O’Connell

Six high school seniors from Edina made time in their busy schedules to chat with us about, well, their busy schedules. Amid the conversations about sports, the arts and volunteer work, a common theme stood out: Each of these impressive students has had to overcome a major challenge to get where they are today. We wanted to learn more about their perseverance and dedication so you might be as inspired as we are by their achievements.

Kitty O’Connell
Edina High School

When Edina High School senior Kitty O’Connell took up Nordic skiing, the distance runner did so to stay in shape between cross country and track seasons. But after one extremely tough ski race, she learned a bit more about Nordic skiing and a lot more about herself.

“I kept falling down this particular patch of an icy hill,” Kitty says, noting freezing temperatures and a crowded course. No one would pause to let Kitty move to the snow on the side of the hill, so she became stranded on the ice patch in the middle.

Eventually, a bystander pulled her to the side where she could catch her breath. After thanking her hero, Kitty found the strength to make it up that hill.

“I would love to be able to say that I turned the race around and ended up winning, or accomplishing some other incredible feat, but that is not the case,” Kitty says. “Instead, I finished in last place with my slowest time in years. However, I learned the importance of perseverance and persistence in the face of adversity.”

When Kitty isn’t running or scaling treacherous ski hills, she likes to garden, play bass clarinet and spend time with her family.

Sam Rocheford
Benilde-St. Margaret’s

Sam Rocheford knows the power of a second. His cross country career goal was to break 20 minutes in the 5K.

“I struggled to break that mark. [During] one race, I crossed at 20:01. I was heart-broken,” says Sam, a senior at Benilde-St.Margaret’s School. “Finally, at my final race last year, I broke 20 minutes. I finished at 19:51.”

This year, Sam has a new ambition: to help his younger brother Charlie achieve his goals. Last year, while Charlie was a freshman on the team, the Rocheford brothers proved to be a powerful force.

“I love the extra time I get to spend with my brother,” Sam says. “When he started the sport, he wasn’t sure if he’d like it. But now he’s hooked.”

As a team captain, Sam understands the importance of inclusion. “It’s all about being there for your teammates. Not just for races, but during school and family problems too; it’s about taking a role in their lives. Making them feel like they’re a part of something.”

Evan Holm
Edina High School

Evan Holm is living his dream. But he’s had to fight for it. When this senior at Edina High School showed up for his first day of rugby practice, the coach looked him over and determined Evan was too small to play.

“It was discouraging,” says Evan, who also plays football. “I knew I had to keep going because it’s something I loved. I had to show them that I was up for the challenge.”

And up for the challenge he was. Holm is now a member of the USA Rugby High School All American team and competes around the world. “Evan will go into his senior year as an all-state prospect for football and a captain for football and rugby,” says Chris Babiash, Edina High School’s rugby co-coach. “He’ll have also represented our country wearing red, white and blue for USA Rugby in France and Belgium. That’s impressive.”

This dual-sport athlete says he gets his motivation from his older brother, Matt.

“Since he was 10, he knew he wanted to be a Marine,” Evan says of his brother. “Watching him chase his dream inspired me to be more determined about what I want to do with my life. If he can do it, I can do it.”

Devin Palm
Edina High School

Four note cards hang in Devin Palm’s kitchen, each with a different hand-written goal: things like “make the state swim meet,” “stay in shape” and “maintain a 3.8 GPA.” Devin looks at those cards each day – whether he’s on his way to swim practice or on his way to finish his homework.

“My dad and I write goals for ourselves every year right before school starts and hang them up on a board we have in our kitchen,” says Devin, a senior at Edina High School. “My biggest challenge has been keeping those goals in mind and trying the whole year to achieve them.”

Devin was captain of the Bearpath Golf and Country Club swim team and the Edina swim team last year, and will return to both positions this year.

“It’s a lot of fun to coach some of the younger kids,” he says. “It’s an honor to be a role model.”

In Devin’s spare time, he studies engineering and Latin, plays the violin and of course, continues working toward his goals.

Rose Bruns
Edina High School

Before Rose Bruns laces up her Saucony spikes for a cross country race, she pictures the course, calms her mind and takes slow and deep breaths.

“I picture what I’m going to do and who I’m going to stick with,” says Rose, a dual-athlete senior at Edina High School. When she’s not running, she’s skiing.

“Running’s definitely consistent in my life. But I also love Nordic – it’s really good for training,” Rose says. When not running or skiing, Rose can often be found playing her clarinet. In band since fifth grade, Rose participates in marching band, pep band and pops. How does she keep her busy schedule organized?

“I keep my planner with me at all times,” she jokes. “I plan out my nights ahead of time so I can make room for everything. It’s all about prioritizing.”

A participant in Project Lead the Way, a partner program with school districts around the country, Rose has already gotten a jump on some college credits.

“By completing Introduction to Engineering and Design in 9th grade and Civil Engineering and Architecture in 10th grade, I’ve earned six college credits,” Rose says.

Dan James
Edina High School

Dan James is familiar with pain. During the 2014 Edina High School football season, he pulled a muscle in his back and mangled a finger. Through the pain, he had one thing on his mind: Getting back into the game.

“My first thought was my teammates. My second thought was my love of the game,” Dan says. “I wanted to get back to battle every Friday night with my buddies – that’s one of the things you’re going to look back on for the rest of your life.”

In addition to making memories – and touchdowns – on the field, Dan participates in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) – a weekly meeting of students who discuss sports and God.

“Seniors on the football team would invite me to FCA. Now it’s just part of my weekly routine,” Dan says. “It’s a great way to relate God to your sport and give the glory to Him.”

On Friday nights, alongside Dan’s family and friends, there’s another face at the Edina football games: Andy Tanghe. The two boys met through the Adaptive Recreation & Learning Exchange Partnership (AR&LE). Dan needed 120 hours of community service and Andy wanted to learn how to snowboard. A strong bond quickly formed – one that’s still going strong today.