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‚ÄčOne student athlete's story

Bridget Kauzlaric doesn't want any other 20-year-old to go through what she did.

Kauzlaric, now a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, is majoring in physical education. With two older brothers, she grew up in an active, hard-working family. "My dad wanted me to be as strong as the boys. He wanted the same opportunities and same respect for me as he did for them.'

He encouraged her, congratulated successes, then quickly pushed on toward the next goal. He instilled in her the drive to achieve more and keep pushing. "I definitely got my competitiveness from him."

Kauzlaric was a three-sport athlete in high school, a four-time all-conference selection in soccer and three-time all-conference honoree in basketball. She holds school soccer records for goals in a season and in a game at Coal City High School. She was recruited to play soccer at UW-Stevens Point, where she continues her solid performance and good grades.

Earlier in September, the UW-Stevens Point soccer team had its Family Day. Kauzlaric's mom and brother came, which was special. But her dad wasn't there. It was another painful reminder: He died of COVID-19 six months earlier.

Her entire family in Coal City, Illinois, got COVID-19 last spring before they were eligible for the vaccine. They lost their taste and smell and had coughs. Her dad's symptoms were more severe and persisted for two weeks. Kauzlaric was in touch by phone, encouraging him to get better. Then her dad had a stroke and was rushed to the hospital. "He was fighting the stroke and fighting COVID. He was on a ventilator, and his body couldn't fight both," Bridget said. After the medical team did all they could to help for several days, he passed at the age of 58.

"You never think it's going to happen to someone close to you.  You never think you're going to be the one," she said.

John Kauzlaric was an electrician at a power plant. "His friends at work loved him. He made everyone's day better," his daughter said.

"Growing up, he took his job as a dad seriously. He wanted us to be responsible and safe. He provided for us. He was a mentor and leader, and I looked up to him." 

Once she and her brothers grew up went to college, her parents knew they taught their children what they needed to succeed in life. They were able to start building a friendly, less serious relationship, Kauzlaric said. "It's sad he went so soon. I didn't get to develop more of that relationship with him."

She's tried to power through her grief and expected the burden would lessen after a few months of staying busy. "I've tried to get this to go away, and it hasn't. It's hard to focus, it's hard to commit yourself 100% to school, 100% to sports, 100% to all the extra things and do well in all of them. Because I'm like my dad, I want to do everything the best I can. It's very hard."

Kauzlaric shares her story, not for sympathy but to encourage others to do what they can to prevent similar stories in their families. "I'm thinking of my friends' parents and grandparents. I'm thinking of anyone I know my age who I don't want to experience what I did.

"It's hard to communicate the tragedy and pain to people who don't really know me," she said. "Even though I feel sad, I don't want to spread sadness. It's so much more than that. We have the power, with the vaccine, to prevent this. My dad didn't have the choice. Now we at least have the choice."

Her soccer team was the first among UWSP Athletics to be 100% vaccinated.

"Bridget epitomizes everything you look for in a student athlete. She is a competitor, she is an excellent student, and truly believes in the goodness of others and being there for one's community," said Dawn Crow, head women's soccer coach at UW-Stevens Point. "She has all our support and knows we will always be here for her and her family." 

With Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer vaccine, Kauzlaric hopes more people will be open to the vaccine or talk to their doctor about concerns. "The concept of getting a vaccine is not new. We've gotten them since we were kids.

"I want people to know it's not a political issue, it's a personal thing. We can vote for different people and still save lives," she said. "It takes one extra ounce of effort to put yourself in a little bit of an uncomfortable position, meaning you've got to wear mask or you've got to miss out on some things. Or get a vaccine to prevent this.  

"If I could stop the spread and stop another 20-year-old girl from losing her dad, to me the risk is worth it."

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