Dec. 4, 2013
By Michael Kasiborski
Katie Luetkens faced a 2-2 count in her fourth and final at-bat of the season for the Michigan Wolverines on April 12, 2013. U-M was laying waste to its intrastate rival Michigan State 19-1 in the fourth inning when head coach Carol Hutchins called on the reserve outfielder to pick up a bat. Luetkens' teammates climbed to the top step of the dugout and crowded the fence line, cheering on the likable leader whose contributions most often could not be quantified in a box score.
Earlier in the season, Luetkens collected her first collegiate hit in just her fourth career at-bat. Now she was facing down a 2-2 pitch in an at-bat that more than likely would not matter too much in game that was decided in Michigan's 13-run second inning explosion.
But the at-bat meant a lot to Luetkens and it meant even more to her teammates her watch her toil in practice every day to make the team better.
"Hutch has really hammered home to keep working hard and keep giving it your best," said Luetkens. "If you're giving it your all and putting in the time, the result may not always be what you want, but you know you have no regrets and you've given everything to it that you can."
Luetkens lashed out at the 2-2 pitch and pounded it deep to centerfield. It kept carrying and carrying until it landed far beyond the outfield fence. Twenty ecstatic teammates poured out of the dugout to greet Luetkens as she rounded third and touched home for her first career home run.
After her round-tripper, she said this: "As I was rounding third Hutch had a big smile on her face and gave me a high-five -- everything kind of slowed down and I thought about how many people wished they could have that moment, and it feels great to have the opportunity. To experience running in and knowing each one of my teammates are excited for me and have confidence in me, it's the greatest feeling in the world."
Keep working hard and give it your best. It is especially important in softball -- a sport fraught with failure -- but it is a pretty good mantra for life. It could not be simpler and, yet, it is so difficult for many people to subscribe to in their lives. For Luetkens, it has become a way of life in athletics and academics.
And she will need it in her post-softball life because her best will be tested every day on her quest to become a doctor.
"I have never seen myself as anything other than a doctor, so that has fueled my fire and kept me motivated," she said.
Some of Luetkens' earliest memories involve her drive to be a doctor. She used to tag along to work with her mom Judy, who is a nurse. In kindergarten, she pretended to work in a maternity ward while the other kids played house. Legend has it, she even blurted out the word "defibrillator" during one playtime session.
By the time she was working her way through high school in Batavia, Ill., she still could not shake the doctor bug. So Luetkens and her parents began to seriously talk about what it would take to get there. She narrowed down her desired field to pediatrics and then set a course for her M.D.; there would be no Plan B.
This past summer, Luetkens put in some time on Plan A through a job shadow with Dr. Jocelyn Schiller, a pediatrician at U-M Hospital and an associate professor at U-M Medical School. Luetkens followed Schiller around the neonatal ward a few times over the summer and then again this fall, soaking in what it takes to work in this demanding field.
"I found it to be a unique experience because (Dr. Schiller) really relates to the patients and also the families," said Luetkens. "It's different with a baby because you can't talk to them. Schiller showed me how important it is to build that bond with the patient and the family."
Luetkens received a hands-on experience: working alongside the pediatricians to perform simple tests examining the newborns' eyes, fingers and toes.
"Being able to walk around and be part of what they were doing reinforced the idea that this is where I want to be," she said.
More than what doctors do, it is how they do it that made the biggest impression on Luetkens. Hopes, dreams and wishes are all part of the experience of having a baby and trust with your doctor is paramount.
"Even though you'll see hundreds of patients in a week, you see these patients and their families for one or two days in their lives, and you want to make a positive impact even in the short time that you spend with them," said Luetkens.
"Hutch says that little girls are always watching us on the softball field and look up to us. The image that we set for them is important and it is the same thing in the working world."
Even role models need role models. For Luetkens, she has been fortunate to discover several here at Michigan. She has Coach Hutchins, Dr. Schiller and now this semester, she has found Dr. Sushama Pavgi. Luetkens is one of 12 students in her Endocrinology MCD 419 class. It's a difficult class for pre-med students to get into and it's a difficult class, period.
This semester, the class is participating in a hands-on examination of the effects of testosterone. The students are using tissue samples from rats to research the hormone. They are performing all of the surgery and lab work themselves with Dr. Pavgi there to answer questions and school the students on equipment and techniques not found in many undergraduate textbooks. From numerous types of needles to suturing, and from centrifuges to different aspects of anatomy, the course is testing Luetkens and her classmates far beyond what rote memorization or 20-page papers ever could.
"Dr. Pavgi is great -- she allows for us to have control of the lab," said Luetkens. "We're learning about the research aspect and we're learning about the effects. We really go into an in-depth, detailed view of everything that we do to understand it."
In a few more weeks, Luetkens and her classmates will have a better understanding of what their research means. Each lab now until then lends itself to Hutch's mantra: keep working hard and give it your best. Every day is building block to the next.
Luetkens will take the MCAT in January, right before the start of softball season, and then begin charting the next phase of her future. Someday, near the twilight of her med school days, she will look back and wonder where it has all gone. As she approaches her final semester at Michigan, she is full of wonderment.
"Being a senior and realizing this is the last time I'll do this or do that, I've had an opportunity to reflect on the opportunities I've been given and (realized) my experience is so unique," she said.
Whether it is traveling to Oklahoma City to play in the Women's College World Series with the softball team or learning from esteemed doctors here at U-M's Health System, there have been some incredible moments. No doubt there have been difficult times, too. That is life. But when you are a Plan A-only type of person, you do not let the tough times overwhelm the good.
"Remind yourself of your goals every day," said Luetkens. "You'll have little (victories) that keep you going and help remind you that you can do it."
Keep working hard and give it your best; whether you are facing down a pitcher from your rival, carrying out an exam on a newborn or performing a test on a rat in a lab. Each new day is a new test and another new opportunity.
"At the end of the day, there is nothing better than giving 100 percent," said Luetkens.
That is how you hit it out of the park, on the field and in life.