Summer 2014

Home Ice

Cherie Hendrickson left a high-flying Russian hockey career for Tufts’ physician assistant program

By Bruce Morgan

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Cherie Hendrickson in her Moscow Region Tornado uniform. Photo: Kathleen Dooher

First, she had to shoo her teammates out of the room and tell them to please keep it down. Then she propped her laptop on the bed and waited for the Boston connection to be made to her modest apartment in Dmitrov, a medium-sized town 40 miles north of Moscow and eight time zones away. It was the fall of 2013, and at age 28, Cherie Hendrickson was at a turning point. 

She had always played hockey at an elite level, from prep school to Providence College and beyond. At the time, she was one of two American members who had been recruited by a professional Russian women’s team called the Moscow Region Tornado. The team was crushing its opponents and would win the European Cup later that year. But Hendrickson was, in fact, entering her last few weeks on the ice.

The call she was anticipating was from Richard Murphy, director of the physician assistant program at Tufts Medical School, who was set to interview her over Skype as a prospective late admission. Long story short, she made the cut. “I was impressed with the technology, but even more with the individual at the other end,” Murphy says. To understand her path to this moment, you and I will have to skate back to Boxford, Mass., and the sight of 3-year-old Cherie strapping on a pair of skates for the first time and wobbling out onto the ice in her older brother’s wake.

“I took to it right away,” Hendrickson says. “I loved everything about it.” 

As a kid, she moved hungrily from rink to rink around town, playing with boys most of the time. “They were bigger and faster than me,” she admits, “but as the girl, you never wanted to not be able to keep up.” This rough-and-tumble immersion was all to the good, Paul Hendrickson, Cherie’s dad, believes. And he should know. The senior Hendrickson, a management consultant and ardent sports enthusiast, was instrumental in creating the Boston Blades, a local branch of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

He appraises his daughter’s skills respectfully. “She’s not the fastest skater, and she’s somewhat reserved, but she’s very aware of anything that’s happening on the ice,” he says. “She’s always in the right position.” 

After college, Hendrickson was determined to stick with the game. She moved to Canada, to the outskirts of Toronto, to coach the Burlington Barracudas for two years. This stint was followed by several years when she played for the Boston Blades while training and working as an EMT out of Lawrence, Mass. She found she loved medicine, with its life-saving teamwork and camaraderie. 

It wasn’t long before Russia came calling by email. A team there wanted to recruit her, along with a Blades teammate and friend, to play on a team near Moscow. After some hesitation, she moved to Dmitrov with her friend and learned to play a less-combative style of hockey—“classic European,” she says—with its emphasis on smooth puck transitions and game flow. The quality of play was top-notch, with as many as a dozen of her teammates later skating on the Russian Olympic team.

The planned phone call from Boston signaled the end of Hendrickson’s life on ice. She had built an option into her contract that if she got in at Tufts, she’d be free to hang up her skates. And so it went. “I’m really happy I went over there, but I’m also happy to be home,” she says. These days Hendrickson has an apartment in Somerville, and she’s settled into the rigors of the 25-month-long physician assistant program. Her new goal is to help people live healthy lives on solid ground.

Bruce Morgan, the editor of Tufts Medicine, can be reached at bruce.morgan@tufts.edu.

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