Patrick Finley: Pioneer gets her due from Wis. hall

2012-09-10T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:36:12Z Patrick Finley: Pioneer gets her due from Wis. hallPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 10, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Karen Lunda walked through the University of Wisconsin Field House Tuesday and into Camp Randall Stadium.

All alone, she paused at the 50-yard line and stared at empty bleachers.

Three days earlier, 78,568 fans had cheered her and five other UW Athletic Hall of Fame inductees at halftime of a football game.

"It was almost too much to absorb," she said.

Lunda, 52, drove to the airport to fly back to Tucson - her home for the past 28 years - after one of the best weekends of her life.

An airport security guard noticed her award, a ruby medallion with the Badgers' "Motion W" overlaid on top, hanging from her neck.

"I know you," she said.

The guard was part of a throng that cheered when Lunda - along with three NFL players, a Final Four basketball coach and a wrestling national champion - was introduced.

The former field hockey star and soccer pioneer became only the 25th woman inducted into the Badgers' hall in Madison, Wis.

It was surreal.

Lunda grew up four blocks from Camp Randall, parking fans' cars on her parents' lawn on game days for 25 cents apiece. Her folks still do it today, for $20.

The teen tomboy was so dominant as a speedskater that she served as an alternate on the 1976 Olympic team.

To train for skating, she took up soccer. From sixth to ninth grade, Lunda played on the boys team because there wasn't a girls squad.

She starred in prep tennis and softball and club soccer. But when she enrolled at Wisconsin, Lunda wasn't sure what to play.

She wasn't good enough for tennis or basketball, and the Badgers didn't offer varsity softball or soccer.

So an old soccer coach lent her a stick and a ball, her dad built a small goal and Lunda took up field hockey.

Within three years, she would become the second-leading career scorer in program history.

Lunda still loved soccer, though, and as a freshman helped form a college club.

The players sold chocolate bars to pay for trips, which they made in a neighbor's van with a lawn chair duct-taped to the floor as the front passenger seat.

"We just wanted to play," she said. "We weren't given anything.

"It was an opportunity to make something happen."

While the soccer club thrived, field hockey didn't.

Before Lunda's senior year, Wisconsin dropped varsity field hockey - and replaced it with soccer.

It was "very bittersweet," she said - one group of friends lost their sport, while another's was promoted.

"But I was extremely excited," she said.

In her only soccer season, in 1981, the senior set team records - with 22 goals, 18 assists and 62 points - that still stand today.

"You could pluck her out of that time and put her in any decade of women's soccer," said the team's coach, Craig Webb, "and she'd do well."

After being named an All-American, Lunda turned down a national team soccer tryout to start her physical-therapy career. In high school, she had developed Osgood-Schlatter disease - severe knee pain as the result of growth spurts - and always knew she wanted to help others.

For the past 13 years, she's run her own business, Lunda & Associates, specializing in the workers'-compensation market.

Though she's never far from her Badgers days, Lunda never expected the Hall of Fame honor. It'd been 30 years, after all.

In March, she received a phone message from Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. He said he had good news for her.

Lunda thought it must have been a fundraising drive.

"Why," she thought," would Barry Alvarez be calling?"

Turns out, for all the right reasons.

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