At a team meeting last May, women’s lacrosse head coach Chris Sailer delivered good news to Abby Finkelston ’18: She’d been selected to receive the Yeardley Reynolds Love Unsung Hero Award, a national honor for team leadership and community service, created in memory of a Virginia lacrosse player who was murdered in 2010.
“Everyone just turned around and faced me and started screaming and smiling and hugging me,” said Finkelston, a captain on this year’s team. “It was an incredible feeling. ... I love giving back to the community because I really enjoy it. I live a really incredible life and a lucky life. I want to give back to others so others can have a life as happy and lucky as mine.”
By some measures, Finkelston has been anything but lucky. A serious car accident stole her senior year of lacrosse at Leonardtown (Md.) High School and left her with neck pain and chronic headaches that can overwhelm her.
“Unfortunately, exercise is the thing that makes it the absolute worst,” Finkelston said. “I went from right after the accident, [when] I couldn’t even jog two laps around the field without having to actually lay down, to my freshman year [when] I could play full games.”
Finkelston learned to live with pain. She had 11 points in 13 games as a freshman attacker for Princeton. She started 15 games as a sophomore, but injured her hip. The first surgery to repair that injury failed, and cartilage reconstruction cost her last season. This year also is in doubt, but Finkelston remains a valued member of the team.
“She’s been through the wringer and has faced a lot of adversity,” Sailer said. “The fact that she was elected captain without having played a minute of her junior year reflects the high esteem she’s held in and what a difference she makes on the field or on the sidelines. She’s really well-respected, and she’s a fantastic leader.”
Finkelston is a longtime participant in Best Buddies, a nonprofit that pairs volunteers with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, and she is in her second year serving on Princeton’s Student-Athlete Service Council. In her sophomore year, she founded the Wounded Tigers Network, which connects and offers support to previously or currently injured Princeton athletes.
“It felt really nice to have that core group of other athletes around who knew what it was like to go through that,” she said. “I definitely think going through my accident helped prepare me mentally for my hip.”
Finkelston has started running and doing agility work with hopes of playing this year.
“To not have to completely write off this season is amazing,” Finkelston said. “It gives me a lot of motivation and hope.”
In the meantime, she is a de facto coach for the Tigers. At practices, she warms up goalies and coaches attackers, and on game days she keeps the substitution box running smoothly — a responsibility that Sailer had never trusted to a player. The role has the neuroscience major well-prepared for her next job, coaching field hockey and lacrosse and teaching science at the Kinkaid School in Houston.
“I love it,” Finkelston said. “It’s really keeping me engaged in the game, and it makes me feel like I’m taking part in the game. I really appreciate the coaches giving me that opportunity.”
Sailer is appreciative as well, for the example that Finkelston has set on the sidelines. “Her commitment to the team, through some significant challenges, has been remarkable,” she said.