Inspired by Teammate, Yale Field Hockey Team Launches “Get a Grip” Campaign vs. Myotonic Dystrophy

Ona McConnell's battle with Myotonic Dystrophy has inspired the Yale field hockey team's
Ona McConnell's battle with Myotonic Dystrophy has inspired the Yale field hockey team's "Get a Grip" campaign.

Bulldogs Join Sophomore Goalkeeper Ona McConnell and Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation in Effort to Find Cure

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Inspired by sophomore goalkeeper Ona McConnell, the Yale field hockey team has announced a season-long campaign to raise awareness and funds for the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation. McConnell was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy, the most common form of muscular dystrophy, earlier this year. The team's campaign, known as "Get a Grip", begins with the season opener vs. Sacred Heart at Yale's Johnson Field (70 Central Avenue, New Haven) on Friday, Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. 

The goals of the Yale field hockey team's "Get a Grip" campaign for the 2010 season are:

  • Raise awareness  
  • Fundraise for research
  • Support Ona and others with this rare disease

Yale will be taking donations for the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation at the game on Sept. 3, and all who donate will receive a Myotonic Dystrophy wristband. "Get a Grip" T-shirts and car magnets will also be on sale as part of the fundraiser. To help raise awareness, the Bulldogs will wear specially designed jerseys during the game.

Starting immediately and continuing throughout the 2010 season, the team is accepting pledges for a "Goal-a-thon" in which donations are based on the number of goals Yale scores for the season. A pledge form and a link to make a donation are available at

"When we learned that Ona had been diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy, we knew we had to take action," said Pam Stuper, Yale's head coach. "Service to the community at large is something we stress to every member of the Yale field hockey program, so it was only natural that we find a way to support the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation. The 'Get a Grip' campaign is going to assist the foundation's efforts to find a treatment for this disease, and the efforts to find a cure. This will help Ona and the estimated 40,000 people affected by this disease in the US."

McConnell was a National Field Hockey Coaches Association Academic Squad selection last season for Yale. Prior to that she attended American School in London and played club field hockey for West Hampstead, where she was named most valuable player. She is interested in attending medical school, and spent this past summer at Normal University in Beijing as a paid assistant in the functional magnetic resonance imaging/brain studies lab under Prof. Yu-Feng Zang. She has also recently been named to the Board of Directors for the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation.

"We are delighted to have Ona join the Board of the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation. We look forward to hearing her thoughts and perspectives as a young woman and athlete living with this disease," said Jeremy Kelly, the Chairman of the Board of the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation.

McConnell is a resident of Berkeley College at Yale. She is both a U.S. citizen and a British subject, as she was born in London to two U.S. citizens. She also lived in Germany for a time, captaining a local team to the Hessen State Championship while in junior high school.

Myotonic Dystrophy (also known as DM, for dystrophia myotonica) is an inherited disorder that can appear at any age and can manifest itself differently in each individual. Muscle issues are often, although not always, one of the first complaints of adult patients, characterized by the following:

  • muscle weakness, most commonly seen in the arms, face, neck and often legs  
  • progressive muscle wasting (atrophy)
  • stiffness and difficulty relaxing a muscle (myotonia)

However, classifying myotonic dystrophy simply as a muscle disorder is misleading because of the range of systems that can be affected. The severity of symptoms seen and the range of systems affected can vary greatly between patients, even in the same family. In addition to muscle problems, issues with respiratory function, heart abnormalities, cataracts and the gastrointestinal tract are often seen. However, an affected person does not always exhibit all of the possible symptoms. Occasionally, the disorder is mild and only minor muscle weakness or cataracts are seen late in life. At the opposite end of the spectrum, life-threatening neuromuscular, cardiac and pulmonary complications can occur in the most severe cases when children are born with the congenital form of the disorder.


There is currently no cure for myotonic dystrophy.


About Myotonic Dystrophy: Described as "the most variable of all diseases found in medicine", myotonic dystrophy, a common form of muscular dystrophy, is an inherited disorder that can appear at any age and manifests itself differently in each individual. It affects approximately 1 in 8,000 people worldwide and can cause not only muscle weakness, atrophy and myotonia, but also problems in the heart, brain, GI tract as well as endocrine, skeletal and respiratory systems. Doctors often have difficulty diagnosing the disorder. Since the gene was identified in the early 1990's, researchers have discovered that the genetic flaw generally enlarges and causes more severe symptoms in subsequent generations. This phenomenon renders it a genetic time bomb.

About Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation: The Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation (MDF) is a patient advocacy organization dedicated to leading and mobilizing resources toward effective management, treatment and ultimately a cure for myotonic dystrophy. The foundation provides invaluable medical information, empowering families and medical providers as they navigate the disease process. The website,, and medical information provided by the foundation, is approved by members of the MDF Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee, comprised of American experts in the field of myotonic dystrophy and muscle research who together have devoted more than 90 years to the research and treatment of myotonic dystrophy. In addition, the MDF has a community website where families and caregivers meet others living with similar challenges and share information.

Additional information on the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation may be found at their website,



Report by Sam Rubin '95 (, Yale Sports Publicity