Amber Thornton is not afraid to admit when the juggle becomes too overwhelming for her. Last month proved a good example of this when the Springfield women’s soccer team advanced to the NCAA Division III tournament in Maryland, but her graduate physical therapy professors were worried because she would be missing class. She knew coming into Springfield College four years ago that it would be a struggle to balance the demands that come along with being a physical therapy major who is also a member on a varsity sports team.
She said with a chuckle, “John Gibson asked me if I was sure I was up for doing both physical therapy and soccer. I knew I could because I had a heavy schedule as it was.”
Thornton has developed a strong character of perseverance by taking on multiple responsibilities over the years.
“In 10th grade, I did cross country at the same time as soccer, because the coach asked me to. I did invitationals and sectionals. I would go from three-mile runs to a soccer game,” said Thornton.
As a freshman, Thornton was fortunate enough to find a major role model in one of her teammates. Kate Richardson, who was a sophomore at the time, was in the same position because she was also a physical therapy major who played soccer.
“She basically was me,” Thornton said. “We were kind of like the same person because we had a lot of the same interests.”
However, she had no idea how hard the struggle would become between balancing soccer and an intensive major.
“PT students always seem so happy go lucky, so I had no idea that it would be this hard,” Thornton said.
Thornton, from Troy, N.Y, stands at about 5-feet-4 with brown hair and freckles scattered around her face. She is currently a senior who has juggled the rigorous academic demands of her major while also being a four-year member of the women’s soccer team. It was not always an easy road to get to where she is today, for a multitude of reasons.
Thornton was born to a single mother, Lisa. Her mom dropped out of college when she was pregnant with Thornton. She was only 20. Thornton has never had a real relationship with her biological father because he has a drug problem. It has been a fractured relationship because he would try to reconnect at random times during her life and cause tension.
“I forced them into getting married when I was 5, but they divorced eight months later,” said Thornton.
Her mother then met Kevin Fogarty, her soon to be step-father, a year later (they have been dating for 14 years but will finally get married in the spring because they wanted to wait until Thornton was almost done with college).
Thornton credits much of her success to her mom. She said her mom and Kevin are supportive of everything she does, and her mom has always put her first.
With a smile on her face, she said, “I always wanted to be the best for my mom because she did so much for me growing up. My parents do anything for me,” said Thornton. “My mom is the reason why I have done everything.”
She started playing soccer when she was seven.
“Mom tried to make me play softball, but I got bored so I would pick grass. Kevin noticed I was happiest when I was running the bases, so he was the one who put playing soccer in my head,” said Thornton.
She played on several highlevel teams during her youth. Thornton always played center-mid when she was younger and now plays outside-mid. She made Lensingburgh High School’s varsity team when she was in the 7th grade; the only 7th grader on the team. Thornton kept up good grades through high school and graduated 10th in her class of 174.
Thornton developed her time management skills and became goal oriented in high school; these two traits are evident when you start talking to her.
Her roommate, Nicole DeBenedetto, said, “Thornton is really good at balancing school work and soccer. She puts equal amounts of effort into studying, playing soccer, and hanging out with friends.”
When asked how she decided on a possible career, Thornton responded with, “I wanted to be a vet but I wanted to do something to do with helping people or animals, but not involving blood.”
She wanted to learn more about physical therapy since she is an athlete. She went to physical therapy in high school for two pulled quadriceps, so that began to interest her.
“I didn’t tell anyone till I couldn’t walk because I’m stubborn,” she said with a grin.
Thornton did not know what physical therapy was until she went for her quads. When asked how she began to think of majoring in physical therapy, Thornton replied, “I wanted to do it to help my uncle as well, who is a small-time farmer who needs to work every day. He has back issues, so I said I would help him and make him money at the same time.”
Thornton had many deciding factors in picking a college: physical therapy program, soccer, length of physical therapy program and financial aid. She said she looked at the best physical therapy schools that were Division III. Thornton applied to several New York colleges, but eventually decided to attend Springfield because they gave her the most financial aid and the physical therapy program is only one summer in six years and well known. She said that her high school schedule was not nearly as bad as physical therapy classes.
“I always pushed myself and I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t have to push myself in school,” Thornton replied.
One of her close friends and teammates, Hilary Girard, said, ”Thornton is one of the most hardworking and dedicated people I have ever met. I have never seen her give up on anything, and she puts her heart into everything she does. She is ambitious and I truly believe she will persevere in any and everything she does.”
Thornton faced a hardship she had never faced before this summer: losing someone close to her. Kate Richardson, lovingly nicknamed “Richie,” was her teammate and close friend. Richie was a year above Thornton in physical therapy; Richie was killed during the summer when she was hit by a drunk driver while biking in Tennessee.
Thornton was in the Campus Union when she received the heart-wrenching news, “[Director of United Campus Ministry and Spiritual Life] David McMahon told my friend Maggie.
Thornton was the first person from her soccer team to find out.
“I was in shock and all of a sudden I broke down,” said Thornton. “I cried for four days straight and couldn’t sleep for three days.”
In honor of Richie’s memory, the Springfield women’s soccer team wore No.7 on their soccer jerseys and retired the number. Richardson’s home jersey is hanging in the locker room, and her parents have her away jersey to honor and remember her.
Thornton has tried to carry on Richie’s legacy—both on the field and in the classroom. She wants to go to North Carolina to complete one of her three clinicals required of the physical therapy program. She eventually wants to specialize in neuromuscular pediatrics, such as kids with cerebral palsy.
“I love little kids and would develop a relationship with them that would affect the rest of their lives. I want to make sure that people can have a good life,” Thornton said.