While most student-athletes are balancing getting to practice and completing class assignments on time, Cara Zubko, a senior defenseman for Ohio State’s women’s ice hockey team, has used her platform to improve communities both in Columbus and halfway around the world in Vietnam.
Zubko was nominated for the 2016 BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award, which goes to college hockey’s “finest citizen,” according to the award’s website. Zubko was one of the first 18 nominees across men’s and women’s college hockey, though she did not make the final five released last Thursday.
The Preeceville, Saskatchewan, native traveled to Vietnam in the summer of 2013 with a program called Coach for College. Through the program, student-athletes from universities across the United States join forces with students from Vietnamese universities to teach impoverished kids throughout the country life lessons through academics and athletics.
Having the opportunity to show the kids a “better view of life” and give them special experiences was the bedrock for Zubko’s future work, she said.
“That was really life changing for me,” she said.
This is the second year in a row that a Buckeye was nominated for one of college hockey’s highest honors off the ice. Kayla Sullivan was nominated last year as a senior, and she recommended Zubko to take over as the leader for the program’s work with Team IMPACT this year.
Team IMPACT is an organization that partners collegiate sports teams with children with chronic diseases. The athletes join friends and family of the child’s support team, and the child is able to become an official team member.
Erin Selfe, a middle schooler in Columbus area, is partnered up with the women’s hockey team through the organization. She is an active part of the team, going to every one of its home games, Zubko said. Last season, the Buckeyes held a birthday party for Erin at her house.
“We have a great relationship with (Erin),” Zubko said. “We have just become really good friends with her, and that’s been a really great positive impact on us and on her as she is struggling with a rare disease.”
Zubko and the team also participate in 2nd & Seven, an organization which has the team read to local second-grade students, and she spends time volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House.
Assistant coach Carson Duggan praised Zubko’s willingness to always make time for community service.
“Every single time that I send out volunteer opportunities or any type of project like that where student-athletes are needed, 99 percent of the time the first person I hear back from within not even an hour is Zubko,” Duggan said.
The senior has been one of the stars on the ice for the Buckeyes this season, as well, as she ranks fourth on the team with 17 points, including four goals. It has been a true breakout season in her final year wearing scarlet and gray, as she came into the season with just 16 points combined in her first three seasons.
Regardless of what she has been able to accomplish when she laces up her skates, Zubko said she believes it is her duty as a student-athlete to try to make a positive impact on the community around her.
“I think with the experiences (we get as student-athletes), it’s the least we can do to give back,” Zubko said.
Duggan said she credits Zubko’s upbringing as helping to shape her into the well-rounded leader she is today.
“She’s extremely hard working … She grew up on a farm, so you know she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and work,” Duggan said.
Zubko’s grasp of her ability to be a role model has empowered her to lead her team in work throughout Columbus.
“Her willingness to help and understanding that (when) we are part of Ohio State athletics, you’re a part of something bigger,” Duggan said. “You have a little bit of a platform, and she really uses that to her advantage and never shies away and understands that part of the duty of student-athletes is to give back, so she is always willing to do that.”