Feb. 14, 2008

By Laura McCrystal, Sports Information Student Assistant

Family. Notre Dame junior Linda Kohan certainly appreciates the ideas of support and close relationships that come along with this word. Since she started playing softball at the age of five, her family has been an important source of support both on and off the field. Now that she has moved from California to Indiana to play softball for the Fighting Irish, Kohan speaks fondly of the sense family that she has found in her relationships with teammates and coaches as well as the entire Notre Dame community.

Kohan grew up in Westminster, a small town in southern California’s Orange County. She played several sports as a child, and at Westminster High School, she succeeded in volleyball and water polo in addition to softball. Her athletic achievements included her selection as the volleyball team’s Most Valuable Player, as well as becoming the first freshman at her high school to letter in water polo. Yet softball has always been her favorite sport.

“I could be out there all day getting ground balls,” Kohan said. “It’s so fun and I’ve just been playing it since I was little, so it’s just part of me.”

As a versatile infielder, Kohan has played first, second, and third base during her career thus far at Notre Dame. Although she remains flexible, she cited third base as her favorite position. This preference is a tribute not only to her love of the game, but also to her perseverance and bold determination.

Kohan loves being able to rely on her family because they have been her biggest and most constant fans both on and off the field. Even though her family is on the other side of the country, Kohan remains close with her parents and brother on the phone nearly every day, in addition to touching base with her aunts, uncles, and grandmother every few weeks.

“We’re a really close family, really open with each other, and me and [my younger brother Robert] are really close,” she said.

Kohan’s relationship with her younger brother, Robert, holds a special significance in her life. Currently a freshman at California State University-Fullerton and an aspiring sports broadcaster, Robert was born with a disease called Ricketts, a challenge that has not slowed his desire a bit.

“He has had a lot of obstacles and adversity in his life, but he still has a great sense of humor, is funny, sarcastic, loves sports, is a fun kid to be around, and a cool person,” Kohan noted.

While emphasizing the inspirational and motivational role that her brother serves in her life, Kohan recalled with a smile one day during her senior year of high school. Robert was a sophomore at the same school, and Linda was extremely worried about an upcoming Calculus exam. Robert had class in the same room the period before Linda’s test. When Linda walked into the room to take her test, she said that at her seat she found a note, which read: “Don’t even worry, you’re going to get an A on this test. Love you, Robert.” Linda said that she did end up earning an A on that exam, and she added at that instances like these are common in her relationship with Robert.

The feeling of family at Notre Dame was an important component of her decision between colleges. Kohan said that she always knew she wanted to play softball at the collegiate level, but she did not know which school she wanted to attend. Also having looked at Stanford, Texas, Ohio State and Princeton, Kohan was intrigued with Notre Dame from the first time she spoke on the phone with Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf. Kohan realized that Notre Dame is unique, not only for its strong mix of academics and athletics, but also for the fact that the coaches genuinely care about their players.

In addition to talking on the phone nearly every day, her brother Robert also comes to visit Notre Dame a few times a year. He gets along well with Kohan’s Notre Dame friends, and they have become his friends as well. Linda said that Robert will even occasionally call her friends on the phone to catch up, and she loves that he is part of her life at Notre Dame. In this way, her two families have merged into one support network. Kohan always looks forward to her family coming to South Bend to see her play. She said that although during the games she is very focused on the task at hand, it helps to know that her family is there to cheer her on. One of her favorite memories occurred during the first tournament that she played during her freshman season with the Irish.

“I hit three homeruns,” Kohan recalled. “And [Robert] was at all the games and every time I came in he was in the stands looking at me, giving me a big thumbs-up when I got into the dugout.”

Robert has been watching his older sister play softball since she began, and is a big sports fan. Although his favorite sport is basketball, Linda said that he loves to talk to her about softball and give her advice, such as telling her she should become a clutch hitter during the 2008 season. Linda added with a chuckle that Robert even assigned her a nickname that he thinks she should aspire to live up to this season –Mr. Clutch. “Not Mrs. because it sounds cooler if it’s Mr.,” Kohan joked.

During Robert’s visits to Notre Dame, he most enjoys biking around campus with Linda. After being in the hospital two years ago, Linda said that it was doubtful if he would ever be able to ride a bike again. But the first place that he was able to ride was at Notre Dame on a visit to see his sister. Linda said that the high points in her relationship with her brother are always his coming to visit and being able to spend time with both her and her friends.

This past fall, when Robert visited Linda for a football weekend, this high point even allowed them to forget about one of the lowest points thus far. She said that when she went home for Thanksgiving, Robert told her that the two-year anniversary of his going to the hospital during her freshman year of college had come and gone without his even noticing. He said that he had forgotten about it because it had been the weekend he was visiting her and he had been having such a great time.

“He has just gone through so much and hasn’t given up on what he wants to do and his dreams and his life and it just inspires me,” she said.

Kohan spoke about Robert’s dream of becoming a broadcaster for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers. She also is currently working with the Notre Dame sports information office to set up an opportunity for Robert to announce a softball or baseball game for the Fighting Irish this spring when he comes to visit.

Kohan spoke about the continuing inspiration that her brother has in her life, saying, “When things are hard for me and we’re running [at practice] and it’s getting hard or when school’s hard, I know that it’s not anything compared to what he’s had to go through. So it just makes me want to push even harder because I know that I can’t complain with what I’ve got because he has had to go through so much more.”

Kohan’s hope of the supportive environment that she would find at Notre Dame has certainly come true. Now in her junior year, when asked what she likes best about Notre Dame, she responded quickly and without hesitation that it is the family environment. On the other hand, the aspect of being home that she most enjoys is spending time with her family. This belief in the power of family – whether it is a real family, a team family, or the entire Notre Dame family – will undoubtedly remain a significant aspect of Kohan’s life from which she can draw strength and support.

— ND —