Senior and captain of the Men’s Soccer team Jeffrey Henkel is an impressive presence both on and off the field. The senior Psychology major and Biology minor from Hollywood, MD has recently applied to graduate school for Occupational Therapy, with the hope of working with children who have special needs. His compassion for others and friendly disposition is nothing short of inspiring, and his career choice is truly a reflection of his nature. Coupled with his athletic ability and determination to succeed, the seasoned student-athlete is sure to excel in all of his post-graduate pursuits.
Hi, Jeff! What did you do last summer?
Last summer, I interned at a personalized therapy facility and worked under an Occupational Therapist. I also worked for Saint John’s Summer Program, which is a Catholic summer camp.
What made you want to become an Occupational Therapist?
I had a free period in my senior year of high school, and my old Physical Education teacher asked me to help out in his adaptive learning program. Basically, the class was physical education for students with special needs. I was paired up with a young man named Sean, and he had Cerebral Palsy. He was bound to his wheelchair, and it was definitely an eye-opener for me. I got to know him more and more every day, and we became really good friends. We even started setting goals for each other so that we could improve throughout the course of the year. For example, he had a goal of standing up on his own with the help of a trainer, and he did it! As the year progressed, he just got better and better at it. It was this combination of teamwork and determination that made him achieve his goal, and I was blessed to be apart of it. He taught me to never take anything for granted and to find joy in the simple, little things.
That’s really amazing. What things are important to you now, in light of your career choice?
As a senior, I’m really focused on my future right now and what will help to better me in what I hope to accomplish. I’m also looking forward to getting married to my fiancée, Katie Ligday, on June 16th! Anything that I can do now that will help me and my future family is definitely the most important thing to me now.
Did your internship last summer help you in your career pursuits?
Definitely. I’m in the application process for graduate programs in Occupational Therapy—I actually just had my first interview with Augusta University.
Oh! How did your interview go?
It went well! I met with the director of the therapy program, It is an amazing university.
Did you apply anywhere else besides Augusta University?
I did! I also applied to the Medical University of South Carolina.
Great choices! Now, where do you see yourself in five years?
I don't necessarily want to run my own therapy facility, but I definitely want to work in an Occupational Therapy practice—specifically in Pediatrics. I want to work with children with Cerebral Palsy so that I can help them be more independent in their life and function better within the world.
So, as the captain of the Men’s Soccer team, what advice would you give current or aspiring collegiate student-athletes on how to balance college life with his or her sport? What did you learn from playing soccer?
A big misconception is that athletics take away too much time from academics or other areas of your life. The balance of the two is definitely doable—it is and will be hard work, but that’s the “name of the game.” Take advantage of the bus trips to away games by doing homework or studying, rather than sleeping or scrolling through social media. In fact, I believe that it really helps you manage your time efficiently, and that it is a discipline that will carry over during off-season. Playing on the soccer team also taught me a lot about diversity—we have many players from all over the world, each with their own cultures and languages. As captain, I really tried my best to find common ground with everyone and to understand where every player was coming from. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to play with such a diverse group of men.
Your determination to do what is necessary as both a student and an athlete is definitely inspiring! What or who would you say is your primary source of motivation?
My fiancée, Katie Ligday. She’s definitely my biggest supporter in everything I do. I owe my success, especially my success at Ave, to her because she keeps me calm, focused, and motivated both in the classroom and on the field. A lot of the things I do are with her and our future in mind, which definitely keeps me in pursuit of success.
How would you say your goals or dreams changed throughout your life?
Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to play professional soccer. It was actually going to happen for me right before I transferred to Ave. I signed my letter of intent to play for a nationally ranked university soccer team, however after meeting with my spiritual director I decided that Ave is where I was called to go. Even after I transferred to Ave, I was invited to tryout for soccer teams in New Zealand and Switzerland. Thankfully, I realized that my priorities changed—I now want a family and to pursue a career in Occupational Therapy, rather than be a professional athlete.
In light of your new-found goals and dreams, what is most important to you now?
My family, for sure. They support me in every one of my endeavors, whether it be athletically or in my studies. Also, I am so thankful for my mother—she loves me so well. My family teaches me so much about love and life through their example, and I am so blessed to have such a support system.