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Blazing Her Own Path

After a devastating accident, Jackie Ruggiero ’23 was inspired by veterans to make a powerful choice about her body. In doing so, she found a passion for nursing.
After a devastating accident, Jackie Ruggiero ’23 was inspired by veterans to make a powerful choice about her body. In doing so, she found a passion for nursing.
By: Danna Lorch

For Jackie Ruggiero ’23, the most important lesson she learned in college was to enjoy the moment and “try not to take life too seriously.” 

Ruggiero’s favorite place to do that is Endicott’s Hempstead Stadium in between the goalposts with her cleats digging into the turf and her eyes trained on the ball. 

“Soccer has been therapy for me. It gives me the opportunity to tune everything out and focus on playing, hanging out with a good group of girls, and pushing myself to compete,” said Ruggiero, a nursing major and the goalie for Endicott’s women’s soccer team.

She’ll never forget the 2021 game when her team defeated their archrival Roger Williams in a particularly hard-fought battle. “We scored, then they scored, and then we won. The energy from the stands was just awesome,” she remembered. 

In fact, the adrenaline was pumping so intensely through Ruggiero’s veins that even though she broke her wrist mid-game she refused to come off the field until the Gulls had shut it down. 

Pain is a sensation that Ruggiero, who is tough as nails, was first forced to accept as a teen growing up in Huntington Beach, Calif. A severe accident led to a life-altering hand injury that was excruciating to get through daily activities with, let alone play as goalie. Her dreams of playing college soccer dimmed and her school days were punctuated by agonizing physical therapy sessions. 

After two years of physical therapy, a doctor advised that an operation to amputate her fingers might offer relief—but it was an unfair and brave choice for a teenager to make—and one that Ruggiero’s parents respectfully let her weigh for herself. She was just 17. 

As part of the decision-making process, her father, a veteran who deployed to Afghanistan when Ruggiero was in fourth grade, took her to the local VA Hospital to speak with veterans recovering from amputation surgeries. “I looked at those vets who had sacrificed so much for the country and on top of that we're now dealing with physical impairments. I felt a lot of empathy for them,” she said. 

In that moment, she gathered the courage to go through with the surgery to amputate the fingers on her hand at the knuckle. But what was even more extraordinary was the inspiration she carried away from sitting with the veterans that day: “It was then that I knew I was going to become a nurse,” she said.

The operation was successful and soon Ruggiero was playing soccer again. In the back of her mind, she had a dream of net-keeping for a college women’s team at a school with a strong nursing program. Endicott couldn’t have been a better fit. “Because it’s a small school, you really get to know people who both work here and go here. Endicott feels like a family away from home,” Ruggiero said. 

It’s been all about those relationships for her—from her teammates to Assistant Director of Athletic Facilities Mark Kulakowski, who always has a friendly word to share, to Assistant Professor of Nursing Bethany Nasser, who impacted Ruggiero with her open-minded teaching style. Being a Gull has meant connecting. 

In fact, Ruggiero and her roommate have written out all of their favorite quotes from those conversations (along with their favorite books and songs), curated in Post-It notes on one wall of their room and framed in white, twinkling lights. Ruggiero dreads taking it down after graduation because there are so many funny and meaningful reminders of her college chapter and the lessons learned at Endicott. 

After a devastating accident, Jackie Ruggiero ’23 was inspired by veterans to make a powerful choice about her body. In doing so, she found a passion for nursing.

Now it’s her turn to dole out advice to incoming students. 

“If you’re reading this and you’re about to come to Endicott, I can’t stress enough that you should try to get as many experiences as possible while you’re here. If someone invites you to go out somewhere and try something new, just say yes,” she said.   

Ruggiero has said “yes” since her first year on campus, taking life one day at a time when assignments, practices, or COVID stress piled up. “The beauty of human nature is that we learn to adapt to whatever challenges we encounter,” she said. For Ruggiero, being agile has mattered on the soccer field, recovering from her accident, and working as an assistant nurse on the pediatrics floor at Mass General Hospital, where she’s picked up shifts since junior year. 

This year, she interned inside the packed Mass General Hospital Emergency Room and found a deep sense of purpose being part of a team once again. 

Now, she plans to pass the national nursing licensure exams and get a full-time job in a Boston-area hospital. 

“Knowing that I can make someone else’s day better with my presence is all I’ve ever wanted,” she said.