Women’s Basketball Player Takes a Break From Play To Help Others
Just nine games into the 2011-2012 season, Rensselaer women’s basketball senior forward Hillary McKinley was having a career year. She had seven double-doubles, and she was team leader and conference top-two in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots.
With the beginning of January came the start of Liberty League play but to the surprise of many, the Engineers kicked off the most important part of their schedule without McKinley. The Quinebaug, Conn., native missed the team’s first two games of conference play to help make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
“The different culture and lifestyle was obviously a big change. But I got to see how resilient and determined the people of Honduras are.”— Hillary McKinley
A biochemistry and biophysics major, she spent seven days in Honduras as a volunteer with the Global Medical Brigade. The organization utilizes volunteer efforts of college undergraduates, along with licensed medical professionals, to provide health services to communities without access to health care.
Traveling with the Rensselaer chapter of the Global Medical Brigade, McKinley, along with four other students and a nurse, landed in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Jan. 3 to begin their experience. From the start it was a moment she wouldn’t forget.
“Even landing in the city was different,” said McKinley. “Flying in, you see shacks on the mountainside. There are familiar things within the major parts of the city, but once we drove outside toward where we were staying, I think I realized how out of my comfort zone I was.”
From dirt roads and cement houses, to tiny shacks and a considerable lack of resources, she and her group continued on for more than an hour and a half outside the city to where they’d be staying.
“I think in our society, we’d consider their living conditions to be extreme poverty,” she explained. “But for those people, they never complained. There was no self-pity and they lived each day as it was. For me, I think trying to understand how it could be normal was my biggest challenge.”
McKinley was not given much time to contemplate her surroundings. Teaming up with a brigade from the University of Virginia, they traveled each day from their dorm to a small village about an hour away.
“Basically there would be different stations set up in the village and we would help out the professionals at each one,” she said. “So one day I got to work at the dental station and my job was to hand the dentist tools as they did a number of things like tooth extractions and such.
“Beyond that we helped with taking blood pressure and vital information that would then go to the doctors,” McKinley said.
McKinley, who aspires to be a pediatric neurosurgeon, explained that the medicine and supplies handed out to the patients actually came from Troy. The Rensselaer chapter of Global Medical Brigade, which was founded in the fall of 2010 by Saba Azizi-Ghannad ’12, provided medication with uses ranging from broad-spectrum antibiotics to antifungals, antiparasitics, insulin, and multivitamins.
“The different culture and lifestyle was obviously a big change,” she said. “But I got to see how resilient and determined the people of Honduras are. Back here at home, I think preventive medicine is really something we take for granted, like the fact that we can go to the corner drug store and get vitamins.”
While the days were filled with so much activity that McKinley could hardly remember it all, there were down times that helped lighten the mood. Upon their arrival to their village-like complex, the group interacted with children from a nearby orphanage.
Overall, the experience taught McKinley to take advantage of what she has on a daily basis, as so many others are not as fortunate. The trip also solidified her resolve to become a doctor. She is hoping to get into a graduate program at the University of Hartford next fall, before going on to medical school.
Not surprisingly, McKinley’s return to campus and the court the following weekend was a triumphant one, as she posted 14 points and 15 rebounds with five blocks in a 49-39 victory over Union. Her continued strong play has pushed the Engineers toward the top of the standings and toward a potential playoff berth.