Love-Love: Women’s Tennis Serves Up Hope From Coast to Coast

Long-time Women’s Tennis Coach Barbara Rawlsky-Willett has two families; husband Doug and daughters Jessica and Meredith, and a dozen student athletes. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the families merged.

Coach Barbara Rawlsky-Willett’s daughter, Jessica, is an emergency room attending physician.

Both daughters work in healthcare. Meredith is a registered nurse in the interventional radiology department at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, and Jessica is an attending physician and assistant medical director for the emergency department at San Joaquin General Hospital in French Camp, CA.

In mid-March, both facilities were engaged as the pandemic hit in full force. At DHMC, plans were readied for a potential overflow of patients, while in California the influx had already begun.

“Knowing coach’s daughters worked in the medical  field and with everything going on, we felt like we should be doing something,” said team captain Maggie McCarthy ’21. “We wanted to make sure they knew they were appreciated.”

Frontline workers were being cheered around the world. In New York City, crowds clapped, banged pots and pans, and honked horns in appreciation. In Plymouth, armed with paper, pencils, and markers, Panthers turned their focus from fore- hands and volleys to writing and sketching. Team members designed personal thank you cards with heartfelt messages and words of encouragement. Julie Miller ’22 used her artistic talent.

Miller sketched a nurse wearing a mask and heart-shaped choker inscribed with the words ‘THANK YOU.’ The nurse’s large eyes portray a sense of compassion and kindness.

Miller had experienced the virus’s impact firsthand. She was in Italy for a study abroad pro- gram during the spring semester before the outbreak forced an early return to New Hampshire.

“I was basically in quarantine for a month,” she said. “I could have gotten really sick. I had to go to the hospital for tests, have lung scans and everything, but all the time the nurses were really nice. I was so appreciative because they were putting their families at risk too.”

Alyssa Bettencourt ’23, a nursing major, wished she was already working to provide care and support to patients.

“I want to be a nurse because I’ve been in hospitals a lot,” she said. “Staff members have always inspired me. I felt like I had a chance to help them get through that time and that meant a lot to me.”

The cards were bundled together and shipped to the two hospitals. “Each told a little bit of our team story,” said Bettencourt. “That really personal note meant a lot to me.”

It did to the coach’s daughters as well.

“The main thing for my colleagues was the importance of feeling that support and recognition,” said Jessica. “During that time, we were in the midst of a COVID-19 surge in California and we were overwhelmed and understaffed, and morale was at an all-time low. It was such an important gesture. Knowing that the support extended beyond our own community was really a push for us to keep going.” DHMC staff reacted similarly. “My colleagues and I were blown away by the kindness,” said Meredith, “especially knowing that it came from a group that knew little about us beyond that we were working through the pandemic. We really appreciated being recognized for our hard work and knowing that what we were doing was having such a positive impact on everyone around us.”

And that’s how a little team from PSU encourages frontline workers from coast to coast. “Emergency medicine can often be a thankless job,” said Jessica. “And because of that, the thank-yous become even more special and memorable.”