PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Most students who graduate from college can say that they honestly learned something about themselves during the four or five years they spent at school.

However, you would be hard pressed to meet a student who was forced by circumstance to learn more about herself during those college years than Widener University senior softball player Kelly Vogelgesang.

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An Archbishop Prendergast product, Vogelgesang has been a solid catcher/outfielder for the Pride during her career.  She isn’t a star, but what she is is an inspiration to her team, having dealt with the death of both her mother and father during her four years on campus.

Vogelgesang says her father’s cancer was in its fifth year of remission as she readied to head to Widener.  But in August 2007, right before her freshman year, her family learned that the cancer had returned and it was terminal.

“Two months into my freshman year in college, my dad passed away.  October 2nd.   So it was right in the midst of starting a whole new world in college,” she recalls.

She says her father’s death forced her to grow up in a hurry.

“I come from a family of three boys, I’m the only girl, so I’ve always been a  ‘daddy’s girl.’  And softball was always a way that my father and I connected, so it was hard getting back on the field and wanting to play, knowing my dad wasn’t going to be there,” she says.  “But I knew what he wanted was for me to excel in college, to finish, to play softball.  His death wasn’t the end of me.”

Hear Kelly Vogelgesang’s entire inspirational interview with KYW’s Matt Leon in this CBS Philly SportsPod…

Less than a year later, at the end of the summer before her sophomore year, Vogelgesang says her mother wasn’t quite acting like herself.  Soon she was diagnosed with a tumor at the back of her brain.

“It was growing on either side,” she recalls.  “That was something that none of us were prepared for.  They told us in August and they said that she wasn’t going to make it to Christmas or Thanksgiving.  And my mom actually passed away one year and one month after my dad.”

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Needless to say, Vogelgesang’s world was shattered and she was left wondering what her next step would be.

“To be honest, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to finish my time here.  I was in a place where I didn’t actually know what to do.  And I have a younger brother and two older, so the pain I was feeling my younger brother was still going through — and still in high school.  I wasn’t sure what path I should take.  Do I have to drop out of school?  Do I have to go take care of my family?  It was just a time when I was unsure about everything.”

But eventually she would learn that she had a pretty special support system in place.

“We have three other seniors on this team, and without them I would have never made it through.  Without (head coach) Fred (Dohrmann), without the people at Widener giving me such a great scholarship, without my friends and family. . .  I can’t say enough good things.  Without them I wouldn’t be able to be here today, and it’s almost surreal knowing that this is coming to an end,” she says.

Kelly Vogelgesang is set to graduate from Widener next month with a degree in psychology, and she plans now to go to nursing school.

While she had to undergo heartbreak that no should have to endure during her college years, you can’t help but be impressed with how she handled it.

“I did grow up a lot faster than most people.   And in a sense I’m grateful for all the things that my parents taught me early on — to enjoy each and every day and to never take anything for granted, even the little stuff.  Like being able to be out here on a great day and be able to play softball.  I just feel that I’ve grown and matured just in the four years I’ve been here, and I really have a better outlook on life, I think.”

Reported by Matt Leon, KYW Newsradio 1060

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