Kathryn Mahoney and Piotr Pasik were once perfect strangers.
Despite not knowing one another, both are athletes — Mahoney a Academic All-Big Ten gymnast, and a leader on the Spartans’ lineup; Pasik a first-year graduate student specializing in rehabilitation counseling who plays on several intramural soccer teams.
And both face physical challenges.
Tragedy struck gymnastics practice Dec. 29, 2010, when Mahoney was practicing her vault and fractured her C6 vertebra. After a successful surgery at Sparrow Hospital, she was left mostly paralyzed with intense rehabilitation ahead.
Pasik, who was born with spastic cerebral palsy, can’t walk and has to play soccer in a walker, is still is a top goal-scorer.
Pasik knows Mahoney will have similar issues like the ones he has when she returns to campus in the fall to complete her degree. She’ll have a lot of adjustments to make, but Pasik developed a plan to help make her transition and recovery a little bit easier.
“Both Kathryn and I do have a physical disability,” Pasik said. “I could never walk, and I never will. … I’ve had 27 years to adjust to this, whereas (she) is going to have to start that at 22.”
Money for ‘Money’
Pasik had helped out during gymnastics meets and had seen Mahoney — but the two had never met — and when he heard about her accident, he identified with her and wanted to help.
After Mahoney’s injury, the Kathryn Mahoney Fund was established at the MSU Federal Credit Union, or MSUFCU, to raise money to help with her rehab.
Pasik recruited sponsors to donate money for every goal he scores in his soccer games. He’s hoping to raise awareness for people with disabilities while helping Mahoney — known to her teammates as “Money” — with her recovery.
“To be honest, life’s been really good to me,” Pasik said. “Any opportunity I get to help people in any way I try to take advantage of.”
The intramural soccer teams are in season, currently in the playoffs. So far, Pasik has scored 61 goals on all of his teams — 50 in the regular season and 11 in the playoffs — and wears a wristband with Mahoney’s initials on it as a reminder of his cause. Any money he raises goes directly into the fund, so Pasik never will know how much money he has raised for Mahoney.
Pasik said he has several sponsors who anonymously donate money to Mahoney’s fund online. One of the sponsors is gymnastics head coach Kathie Klages, who said she pledged $5 for every goal he scores. Greg Janicki — a former MSU soccer player and current Major League Soccer player — also is a sponsor, Pasik said.
“(Pasik) has a huge heart and you can tell that immediately,” Klages said. “Within five minutes of meeting him, you can tell that this is a good guy.”
As an assistant director for Intramural Sports, Johnny Allen said when he heard of Pasik’s project, he wasted no time in offering his support and a donation.
“The message is that we’re all in this together, and when somebody’s down, we’re trying to do what we can to help lift them up,” Allen said.
Utilizing social media for Mahoney and his cause, Pasik has a Facebook page and Twitter account — both named Goals4Money — to spread the word.
“Social media is ridiculously amazing,” Pasik said. “I’ve had a lot of positive responses on Facebook.”
For two months, Pasik organized his fundraiser without ever meeting Mahoney.
Finally, on Feb. 27, he traveled to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where Mahoney was relocated after her surgery. He wanted to make sure she was OK with his fundraising and offer her more personal support.
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Because of Mahoney’s continuing recovery, The State News was unable to contact her.
“Meeting Kathryn was amazing,” he said. “When I left (her) room, I just had the biggest smile on my face. She has such a positive attitude about things, and she’s just so motivated.
“It’s just really encouraging. I remember doing intensive rehab myself back in the day, and it was so great to see her working hard and making progress.”
Although insurance will cover her medical needs during recovery, the MSUFCU fund helps with needs and adjustments she might require in the future that aren’t covered.
“There’s a possibility she’s going to have to have a car modified,” Klages said. “Will insurance cover that? I don’t know. When she moves back to East Lansing to finish school, will there be handicapped apartments available for her, or will there have to be some modifications done to where she’s living? I don’t know. There are just so many question marks.”
Pasik is unsure of how much money he’ll raise for Mahoney, but he is on a mission to change attitudes toward people with disabilities and make people think about accessibility issues.
“Every once in a while, you have a situation where somebody says something ridiculous where you’ve got to brush it off,” Pasik said. “But at the same time, it’s just as motivating as a positive response because that’s why I’m out there, to change those attitudes.”
The Spartan gymnasts also are in full support of Pasik’s efforts to help their teammate; “touched” by him stepping up for someone who was once a stranger.
“I think it’s really inspirational and motivational that he’s pitching in and doing his own thing as well,” junior gymnast Daneen Haba said. “I think it shows how close everybody in the Spartan community is.”
Since being in rehab, Mahoney has received an enormous amount of support from the MSU community, in and out of the athletics department, Klages said. She said each athletics team sends Mahoney a gesture of kindness each week to remind her that she’s not forgotten.
Continuing to raise awareness and money, Pasik said he hopes his fundraising and love for soccer will help make her life easier when she returns.
“I was just so touched by the fact that he — not knowing her and seeing her from a distance and had never even spoken to her — was willing to … get involved,” Klages said.
“He’s just all about Spartans helping Spartans.”
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