When Kate Bieraugel has felt she is nearing her breaking point in conditioning workouts or strength training sessions with the Mount St. Mary’s women’s lacrosse program, the junior midfielder has relied on a simple motivation.
“When I get really tired or start thinking, ‘I can’t do it,’ there’s just two words in my head, and they’re ‘For Mom,’ and that has gotten me through all of my workouts,” she said. “Those two words set me back and remind me, ‘This is why you’re doing this. It hurts right now, but it’s going to be so worth it.’”
Bieraugel will celebrate her 21st birthday this month without two of the most important people in her life. Her grandfather Paul Kelly Mikules died May 9, 2017, at the age of 71 from complications associated with Parkinson’s disease. Exactly a year later, her mother, Michele Bieraugel, died at 52 from an overdose.
Kate Bieraugel is readily recognized as one of the more tireless and relentless players on the Mountaineers roster and has earned the respect of her teammates and coaches.
“She’s one of the greatest positive influences on the team,” senior defender Marie Dickson said. “The fact that she can come to practice with all of that energy and positivity and you know what she’s going through a lot more than most of us, she’s amazing and inspirational.”
Bieraugel spent a majority of her childhood in California, especially San Diego, where her family currently lives. But her grandfather, a Mount St. Mary’s graduate, planted the idea of the Mountaineers as a potential college destination, and he did not miss a single home game at Cathedral Catholic High School even as his health deteriorated.
“He was that grandfather standing off to the side screaming at the top of his lungs,” recalled Bieraugel, who with her mother and younger sister, Chloe, lived with her grandfather for his last 18 months. “Whether we won or lost or did terribly or whatever happened in the game, he would ask afterwards, ‘How did you do? How did you think you did?’ I think that really made me look inside myself to see what will make me better for my team.”
Despite her grandfather’s death, Bieraugel said she never considered backing out of her commitment to the Mountaineers, especially after attending a second funeral for him at the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington and meeting five members of his graduating class.
“They were just like, ‘I know your grandfather would be so ecstatic with you going there,’” she said. “That just solidified it even more that my granddad was looking down and was just happy that I was going there.”
As a freshman at Mount St. Mary’s, Bieraugel played in four games, making her final appearance of the season on April 27 against Central Connecticut. Thirteen days later, while preparing for her final exams, Bieraugel received a phone call from her eldest sister Kelly informing her of their mother’s death.
Losing her grandfather and mother on the same day one year apart is bittersweet.
“It was kind of weird,” Bieraugel said. “Looking back on it, you just think, ‘Wow, they’re really interconnected in that way.’”
Roommates and teammates Devon Filippone (River Hill), Zoe Hurlburt (Fallston) and Nicole Voci helped Bieraugel quickly pack her belongings and packed them into four cars that transported the cargo to the home of her great-aunt and uncle Cynthia and Chuck Bollweg in Fulton.
Bieraugel did not return to campus in Emmittsburg and finished her finals in San Diego. Coach Lauren Skellchock kept in touch with Bieraugel, but admitted that she was concerned that Bieraugel might transfer to be closer to her father Paul and siblings Kelly, Carson and Chloe.
“I think for any 18 to 22 year old, that’s a lot to handle. I think it would be a lot for me to handle, and I’m 34,” said Skellchock, a Century and Johns Hopkins graduate. “So I was more so just relieved that she felt so connected and so comfortable coming back to the Mount. I had no doubt in my mind that she would come back and be the same Kate. Yes, she was going to have her moment of struggles, but she’s an extremely strong young woman and extremely dedicated. She’s one of the hardest-working people on and off the field I have ever met and coached in my life.”
In her first game back with the Mountaineers, Bieraugel scored the first goal of her career with 1:51 left in a 20-2 rout of Presbyterian in the season opener Feb. 9, 2019. The significance of that goal struck her after the game.
“In all of my workouts leading up to the season, I had said, ‘This is dedicated towards my grandfather and my mother,’” she said. “But then when it finally came through and it happened, I was so happy that I was just pushing through. That first goal was a moment of fruition.”
Cynthia Bollweg has 12 grandchildren of her own, but alternately calls Bieraugel “my Kate” and “Kate 8” in homage to the No. 8 jersey she wore in high school. She and her husband, Chuck, have attended a majority of the Mountaineers’ home games and have marveled at Bieraugel’s strength.
“She just rolls with the punches,” Bollweg said. “She takes something and just digests it and thinks it over, and then she goes on. She realizes that life does go on and there is life even after you’ve lost someone that you’ve adored and loved so dearly. Her whole world was turned upside down, and she has worked to make it right side up.”
Dickson shared a memory of a Bible study last fall when she and some other teammates were discussing the therapeutic nature of talking to their mothers. After many of the women finished talking, Bieraugel chimed in that she takes solitary walks to hear her mother’s voice.
“There are so many things at college where you need your mom, especially as a girl,” Dickson said. “And I know she’d be dying to talk to her mom about certain things, but the fact that she knows that her mom is there in a different way and she still talks to her mom, it’s amazing.”
Bieraugel said she misses texting her mother almost daily and receiving comforting advice on how to tackle problems or relieve stress. She honored her grandfather by getting one of his frequent sayings, “C’est La Vie,” tattooed on her left ankle.
“Definitely when I play, there’s always that little voice in my head asking, ‘What can you do better?’, which is my grandfather in my head,” she said. “My mom never had these high expectations. She just had the expectation to do the best that I could. I think that has always stuck with me. That’s what I think about a lot, just as long as I’m doing the absolute best and absolute most that I can all the time.”
Bollweg, the great-aunt, said she believes her brother and niece would be proud of Kate’s perseverance and progress.