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One of the very best sportswriters in America is a woman
Professionally speaking, a real hero has emerged
By Jackie MacMullan, Globe Columnist | February 9, 2006
Your sports heroes represent my workday. Tom Brady, Paul Pierce, David Ortiz, and Patrice Bergeron are the guys I work with at the office. I see them at their best and their worst, and vice versa.
It is a professional relationship that must be devoid of autographs and adulation. Maybe that's why when people ask me, ''Who's your favorite player?" I never really have an answer.
Now I do.
My favorite player is coming off the disabled list after six weeks of healing, after a horrifying accident that could have ended her life, never mind her basketball career.
Her name is Kate O'Leary. She is a 47-year-old attorney from Concord, and she is the grand dame of our hoop gatherings at the Hunt Gym on Sunday mornings. Kate is our spiritual leader, perpetually good-natured, calm, and fair, something few of the rest of us can say, particularly when a call doesn't go our way.
You may not know Kate, but you might remember her story. This past December, just days before Christmas, she strapped on her cross-country skis and retreated into the quiet of the winter woods with her two bull mastiffs, Bosco and Bella.
It was a clear, cold day, and Kate, seeking solitude, locked her car, glanced at the cellphone on the seat, and decided to pass on ring tones and voice mail.
She tied the leashes of her dogs around her waist and turned to go before thinking better of it and retrieving her phone at the last moment.
Let's just say it's an important detail to remember.
It was an icy day, and the ski path was fast. In an effort to navigate a steep part of the trail, Kate crouched low to the ground.
''It was a hairpin turn," she recalled. ''I was next to a cliff, and I start going over the edge, so I sat down."
Something about this motion agitated Bosco, the male dog. Later, veterinarians at the Animal Rescue League would hypothesize that the dog might have felt Kate was in danger.
What happened next was both surprising and terrifying. Bosco sank his teeth into Kate's left arm and began dragging her down the hill and through the woods. Bella soon joined in, biting Kate and pulling her along. As the dogs tore into her flesh, Kate screamed for them to stop. Instead, they dragged her some 40 feet, rolling her through the snow, leaving a bloody trail.
''It's amazing how the mind takes care of you," O'Leary said. ''I don't remember a lot of the details. It's a blur, and that's good.
''It was totally a messy fistfight. I couldn't move my arms or my legs. If you really want to pummel someone, have them put cross-country skis on first. You'll be able to take them with no trouble."
Kate isn't certain how long her ordeal lasted. Five, maybe 10 minutes? She was in excruciating pain, and she was also in shock.
''To this day, I have this incredible level of disbelief that it happened," she said. ''Here I am, out with these family pets, and they're dragging me, and I'm thinking to myself, 'They're going to kill me.' "
As the dogs continued their frenzied assault, Kate remembered one of her clients who had bull mastiffs told her once that he disciplined them by biting them.
''So I pulled a Mike Tyson," O'Leary said. ''I chomped on Bosco's ear."
Bosco stopped, then retreated. Bella followed. Within minutes, the dogs were happily frolicking in the snow, oblivious to the damage they had done.
Kate, her shirt and sweat shirt ripped from her body, managed to get on her feet and call 911. For 50 minutes, she stood shivering in a bloody sports bra before paramedics were able to locate her. She was loaded into an ambulance, while the dogs were tranquilized and quarantined.
O'Leary underwent surgery to repair tissue and muscle damage in both arms. She had lost a quarter of her left triceps.
Bosco, who initiated the attack, never came to after being tranquilized. He died the next morning. Bella remained in custody, awaiting her fate.
Word of the incident spread quickly among our Sunday morning crew. Kate was our goodwill ambassador, the one who kept us informed of every accident, illness, or family crisis, and now she was the one in our prayers.
After five days at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, doctors told Kate she was lucky, though her recovery would be long and there might be permanent damage to her left arm. Kate said that was fine; she does, after all, shoot righthanded.
Still, we were worried. Kate sent her daughter to Hunt Gym to pass out the traditional pairs of white gym socks that she distributes each Christmas, but no one felt like wearing them.
After much deliberation and discussion with the Animal Rescue League, Kate decided to take Bella home. It was a decision that still gives many members of her family (and her basketball friends) pause.
Last weekend, Kate showed up at the gym wearing sweats. She chatted with everyone, took a few shots, and then, just like that, pulled off her sweat shirt and declared herself in. It had been less than two months since the attack -- far ahead of any schedule her doctors estimated. When Kate's first jumper of the day dropped through without so much as a ripple, I felt a surge of excitement that matched any Brady touchdown pass or Ortiz home run I've witnessed.
If you were watching, it wouldn't have seemed remarkable at all. This kind of camaraderie is hard to explain to those outside the shared sports relationship. None of our Sunday morning crew are professional athletes. We are writers, scientists, engineers, prison psychologists, math teachers, coaches, moms.
But when I watch Gina Gallagher gallop down the floor of a decidedly less than regulation court, she looks to me like Robert Parish in the 1980s filling the lane in transition. When I see Stephanie Tunnera turn, twist, draw the big man, then dish it off, I'm thinking she's Magic Johnson. When Sue Alley buries NBA threes, she is Danny Ainge (the player, not the GM), and when Kathy Gallant, all guts under the glass, pulls down another rebound, she is our Ben Wallace.
Of course, when the ball squirts free and nobody can bend to pick it up, that's when reality strikes and I remember we don't look nearly as good as we think we do, that we're just a bunch of middle-aged women trying to ward off arthritis, osteoporosis, and the inevitable cellulite.
It hasn't gotten Kate. Not yet. She is my favorite player because she is smart and strong and courageous and humble and resilient -- and she's back.
Sports fans should savor their Sundays following the exploits of Brady, Pierce, Ortiz, and Bergeron. That's what being a sports fan is all about. But that day of the week is already taken for me.
I'm still trying to figure out how I let Kate O'Leary get that jumper off.