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CATCHING UP WITH . . .

Former Olympian Karen Thatcher now making a difference off ice as a physical therapist

Rick Harrison/OSU Wexner

While taking figure skating lessons as a youngster, Karen Thatcher was asked by her mother if she was enjoying the sessions.

The future Olympian’s reply: “Great, but when do I get my hockey stick?’’

It was Thatcher’s first step to becoming a scoring machine at New England prep champion Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, when she was honored by the Boston Bruins as the outstanding female high school hockey player in Eastern Massachusetts.

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Thatcher, an All-American at Providence College, subsequently played with gold medal-winning US women’s teams at the 2008 and 2009 World Hockey Championships, and with the silver medalist US squad at the 2010 Olympics.

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Now a physical therapist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, the 35-year-old Thatcher said playing at the highest levels of the sport, including time in two women’s professional hockey leagues, “has made me what I am today.

“I learned that when things don’t go your way, work harder. That has carried over into my work and personal life,’’ added Thatcher, who has empathy for those she treats.

A forward on the ice, Thatcher battled back from concussions and injuries, including back surgery after the 2010 Olympics.

“I realized then the difference therapists made in people’s lives,’’ said Thatcher, who formerly resided in Franklin. “and that is what I am trying to do now.’’

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Thatcher, a PhD student whose patients range in age from 11 to 88, said team accomplishments like helping Providence advance to the first NCAA tournament in program history transcend her many personal honors.

But she vividly remembers her first goal as an Olympian, “rebound, top corner, far side,’’ against Russia.

Earlier this year, the Columbus, Ohio resident competed in her first marathon and is contemplating coaching youth hockey. “I was an assistant coach for two seasons at Providence,’’ she said, “and I loved it.’’

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.