In the middle of one October night in 2001, Claire Dougherty was jostled awake by her father, Tim, who struggled to stay calm.
For two hours, he drove Claire and her older sister Colleen from their home in Santa Clara, Calif., to Sacramento, where Claire’s mother Margaret and her brother were staying for his basketball tournament.
The impromptu trip did not strike Dougherty as strange. At 12 years old, she was more concerned with her interrupted sleep than the sudden visit.
Instead of a hotel room, however, Tim drove to a local hospital, where Dougherty saw a body of a woman covered in veil. Margaret had passed prior to their arrival with a heart-related affliction.
“I was in shock and kind of in denial because you never think that anything like that would happen with no warning like tomorrow’s never promised,” Dougherty says. “I think it was just shock.”
After shock came grief, and after grief came isolation. Before the death, Claire was an active child who played basketball, volleyball and soccer.
Afterward, she lost motivation to continue playing and shelled herself in.
The self-quarantine did not last. At the encouragement of her father, she slowly picked up the activities again. But now, Dougherty resumed her athletics, especially in field hockey, with a new purpose.
She was going to play to make Margaret proud. Dougherty remembered her mother always saying, “Honor your competition with your best performance.”
Every time she stepped on the field, she was going to honor her competition with her mother’s memory.
For the Dougherty family, sports are part of a family tradition.
Both Tim and Margaret were collegiate athletes at Santa Clara University; Tim played rugby, and Margaret played club volleyball. They passed their love of sports to Dougherty, who played a variety of sports.
Margaret raised Dougherty with an emphasis on the importance of sportsmanship and giving her all, lessons that extended further than just sports and into other aspects of her life.
“If you give your best performance, then they have to give their best performance, which is what you do in life whether it’s on the pitch or on the field or in the classroom,” Tim says.
Margaret encouraged Dougherty to play as many sports as possible, including field hockey. Colleen taught Dougherty the ropes of how to play beginning in sixth grade. By seventh grade, Dougherty was playing with a high school club team.
“(Colleen) really introduced me to the sport,” Dougherty says. “She loved it, so she would bring it home with her. She’d want to hit around in the back, so I was always that person.”
When Dougherty eventually had to choose between field hockey and volleyball for her fall sport in high school, Dougherty chose field hockey.
At Archbishop Mitty High School, Dougherty excelled in field hockey as a forward, garnering the attention of college programs like Cal. In 2007, Dougherty joined Shellie Onstead’s program at Berkeley.
This year, Dougherty’s collegiate career came to a close last Saturday at Virginia. And at the stands waiting for Dougherty that night was Tim, who flew all the way from California.
Tim and Colleen are permanent fixtures at Maxwell Family Field. Tim attended all of Dougherty’s home games at Maxwell Family Field, and both have been Dougherty’s biggest supporters.
“She enjoyed me being there and I enjoyed watching her play, and I knew it wasn’t going to be something she would get to do for the rest of her life,” he said. “I’m going to miss it, and she probably will too.”
Once every so often, when a family friend or an extended relative comes to see Dougherty play, he or she tells Tim how much she reminds him of Margaret. Dougherty’s height, facial features and her personality are like facsimiles to her late mother’s.
“It brings back a lot of memories for people when they see me,” Dougherty says. “It brings happiness for them because I’m so similar to her. But for me, it was sad to deal with because sometimes when I was younger, I thought I was reminding people of the sadness or the pain.”
With the absence of her mother, Claire took it upon herself to turn that sorrow and pain into pride for all those around her, especially her father.
“In my mind, he’s already lost someone that he’s loved and I would never want to jeopardize or put anything at risk to hurt him more. I just want to make him happy and proud,” Dougherty says.
“Now I’m so lucky to be able to let people reminisce that she’s living on through me.”
In her five-year stint at Cal, Dougherty was the most vocal player on the sidelines during a practice scrimmage, encouraging and criticizing her teammates.
In her recruited class of five freshmen, all except Dougherty left the team in or less than four years. As the lone fifth-year senior, Dougherty is the oldest and most experienced member of the team.
“I decided to stay because of the team,” she said. “Not that I owed it to the program or to the coaches, but my experience at Cal was so great that it was the least I could do.”
Dougherty believes she has given her all at Cal, just as her mother would have expected. Dougherty aimed to honor the program and her team with everything she had to offer, even at the cost of delaying her graduation.
Now that her field hockey career ends, Dougherty hopes that she made her mother proud.
In leaving Cal field hockey behind, Claire aims to honor her future with her best.
Jessica Lim covers field hockey. Contact her at [email protected]