Madison Doucette held off surgery to repair a hole in her heart, called patent foramen ovale, so she could compete in a high school championship and try out for the U.S. U19 team.

Call Me Ironman: Doucette's Repaired Heart is Set on Team USA

The Unionville (Pa.) girls’ lacrosse team had just put the finishing touches on a 14-4 victory over Garnet Valley (Pa.) in the PIAA Class 3A state semifinal last June when goalie Madison Doucette rushed to her parents on the sideline.

“Can you reschedule my surgery?” she implored.

Doucette’s heart belonged with her team, not on an operating table.

Doctors have monitored Doucette’s heart closely ever since they discovered a hole between her left and right atriums when she was 10. It’s a fairly common defect, called patent foramen ovale, that usually heals naturally after birth. If it does not, however, a metal closure device, placed by a catheter from the groin through the veins to the heart, can be surgically inserted to improve oxygen consumption and delivery throughout the body.

That’s the procedure Doucette was scheduled for that Thursday, just two days after the big win over Garnet Valley. The championship game, against Manheim Township, was Saturday.

“It had to be pushed back,” Doucette said.

“People get a little nervous when you say, ‘I’ve had a heart procedure,’ and they get a little awkward about it. That’s my way to break the tension. ‘Yeah guys, I’m Ironman.’” - Madison Doucette

Her parents obliged, and Doucette went on to make nine saves in an 11-6, state-title clinching victory. As the buzzer sounded, fellow Unionville captains Erin Garvey and Veronica Hineman came crashing toward her for an embrace which she likened to that of the 2017 U.S. World Cup co-captains, when midfielder Sarah Bullard jumped into the arms of Doucette’s idol, goalie Devon Wills, after winning the gold.

Doucette followed that team closely from her desk at Anchor Life and Fitness in Kennett Square, Pa.

“That moment, we shared was this culmination of hard work and knowing how much we fought for every single second,” she said. “While I may not have had it at the level yet of Devon Wills and Sarah, it’s knowing that emotion I felt in that moment. … It’s a crazy thought to even fathom, but it’s something I want to experience more than anything else.”

Nine weeks after hoisting the state championship trophy, Doucette set out to qualify for the U.S. under-19 women’s national team.

“I knew where I wanted to be, and it was a part of this team, doing exactly what that senior team was doing — getting those gold medals to put around our necks after putting in so much hard work,” she said.

Again, surgery had to wait, this time until after tryouts.

On Aug. 12, Doucette made the 36-player U.S. U19 training team. Five days later, she finally made it to the hospital, exhausted and elated at the same time.

It took her less than two weeks to receive medical clearance and resume her summer training regime from Northwestern, which she joined in the fall as a freshman. By Jan. 31, she had advanced to the U.S, U19 roster of 23 after playing in Team USA’s Spring Premiere in California.

Doucette may not set off metal detectors in the airport, but her metal plate now serves as a badge of honor.

“Call it Stark, because it makes me Ironman,” she said. “People get a little nervous when you say, ‘I’ve had a heart procedure,’ and they get a little awkward about it. That’s my way to break the tension. ‘Yeah guys, I’m Ironman.’”

A self-proclaimed artist, country-loving guitarist and avid longboarder —  “You’ll see me rolling down campus with two sticks, a helmet, some gloves and a chest pad,” she said – Doucette actually grew up in Overland Park, Kansas.

At age 11, she played lacrosse for the first time, but her friends there still don’t understand it.

“That’s the one with the sticks, right?” they would ask.

Doucette started out as a midfielder, taking draws and running the field. She had played goalie just twice in Kansas City as a 12-year-old leading an under-15 team to a tournament championship.

“That was fun,” she thought then.

When Doucette moved to Pennsylvania, then-Unionville head coach Lisa Aikman marveled at the multiple facets of this lacrosse player from the Midwest. Doucette remembered the introduction as such: “Hi, I’m Madison. I’m a freshman. I play goalie and midfield. Where do you want me?”

“That honestly threw off so many people,” Doucette said. “‘You take the draw — and you’re a goalie?’ I was like, ‘Right now, kind of, yeah! Is that weird?’”

Aikman told Doucette to throw away her field stick.

“I am where I am because of that decision,” Doucette said.

It was a learning curve, moving from Kansas City to Philadelphia, but not as steep thanks to skills Doucette brought from her background in ice hockey dating back to age 4. (Her father, Gary, played ice hockey at Miami University.)

Doucette competed first for the St. Louis Lady Blues and then the Philadelphia Junior Flyers, later earning a spot in three USA Hockey national development camps. Her original plan was to play for the U.S. women’s hockey team, but lacrosse soon took over as her primary sport. Doucette found a home with the Ultimate club team, Unionville, Northwestern and now Team USA.


Doucette once had dreams of making the U.S. women's national hockey team, but lacrosse soon took over.

“[USA Hockey’s] motto was, ‘We are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are Team USA. We are team-first,’” she said. “Since getting the chance to put on the red, white and blue for myself, it’s been so cool to think about that. Yeah, it might be a different sport, but the mentality is the same.”

Doucette’s resolve was only strengthened by the brief time she spent in a pediatric hospital, seeing kids walk just hours after open-heart surgeries.

“Our body’s our tool,” Doucette said. “I always think back to the Steve Prefontaine quote: ‘To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice your gift.’”

As biomedical engineering major, Doucette has taken a special interest in the anatomy of the human body. Through different art forms — such as oil, spray paint, charcoal and graphite — she creates her own representations. She particularly enjoys portraying non-stereotypical athletes. At her home in West Chester, Pa., her parents even gave her permission to do street art on a wall of their horse barn.

“I spray paint things that I’m legally allowed to on,” she said with a laugh. “It’s something that fascinates me. Just being an athlete in general, you’re more hyper-aware of your body, not only visibly, but also how you feel. It’s interesting drawing other athletes as well. You notice certain things. Maybe their muscles are more prominent just on the nature of what they do, or things are different dimensions, and you can apply that to yourself.”

Playing at Northwestern, Doucette feels a strong connection to the U.S. U19 team’s redemptive purpose. Kelly Amonte Hiller is her coach for both teams. She plays alongside a couple of Canadians in Selena Lasota and Megan Kinna who starred for the team that dethroned Team USA in 2015. Two other Wildcats, former U.S. players Mallory Weisse and Claire Quinn, were on the losing end of that upset.

“There’s definitely a score to settle,” Doucette said. “We want to make sure US Lacrosse is where it should be — at the top of the world rankings.”