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The power to make a difference

MacNeil has taken his experience on the football field, and is using it to make a difference

Posted: January 18, 2009 9:53 p.m.
Updated: January 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.
In the summer of 2005, Colin MacNeil found himself at a crossroad.

Like many recent college graduates, MacNeil was forced to ponder his next move.

With a biology degree under his belt, medical school was the apparent next step.

However, he had yet to begin the application process.
In August, still unsure of his plans, Hurricane Katrina struck the gulf coast.

Colin's father, Donald MacNeil, received an e-mail from the Red Cross seeking volunteers to train and dispatch to Louisiana and assist in rescue efforts.

Donald approached his son about the opportunity and Colin, a 2001 Canyon High graduate, did not hesitate to oblige.

Two days later, after being told to pack a duffle bag and sleeping bag, Colin found himself on a flight to Baton Rouge, La.

Colin was immediately thrust into the grim and austere circumstances that had taken over the city.

What was initially supposed to be a two-week trip quickly turned into five weeks, as the need for assistance became greater than expected.

Colin's original duty was to disperse checks from the Red Cross to families that needed financial assistance. After two weeks, he was asked to relocate to Mississippi to become logistics manager, which entailed allocating supplies and other volunteers to shelters around the city.

"For two weeks I had to listen to heart-breaking stories from people," Colin says. "That was the turning point for me."

Colin says he felt like he was in his niche.

Taking on leadership roles was what he did best.

"He was a natural leader," Donald MacNeil recalls. " I saw him in Pop Warner football and Little League emerge as a kid who would get others to follow him."

Colin said his time in the gulf coast solidified his decision to attend medical school.

It was gratifying for him to be able to help those in need.

He vowed he would do it for the rest of his life.

When he returned home to California, he received his Medical College Admission Test scores in the mail and promptly began the process of applying to medical school.

While waiting on his acceptance to a medical program, he continued his volunteer services.

In the winter of 2006, Colin spent five weeks in Guatemala volunteering at a local hospital.

After a year away from the classroom, Colin received a letter from Western University of Health Sciences stating his application to the medical program had been accepted.

Medical school would put Colin in another position where he had the responsibility of being a leader.

His passion and desire to lead, which started on the football field, eventually culminated into a pursuit of medicine.

He earned a considerable amount of accolades throughout his years of playing football for Canyon, and most recently Occidental College, for his unquestionable leadership skills.

MacNeil was a highly decorated player during his time at Canyon and Occidental - or Oxy as he refers to it.

His most prestigious award came during his senior season with the Tigers, when he won the John Zinda Leadership award.

Named for the former head football coach and athletic director of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the award is given to senior players who best exemplify high standards and characteristics displayed by Zinda.

"Colin is an incredible leader. You could tell he had the ‘it' factor," said 26-year Occidental head coach Dale Widolff. "He asserted himself from day one and he has such a great work ethic off the field too. He's an A+."

Colin received high marks in the classroom as well.

He maintained a 3.44 GPA while at Occidental, which was not where he initially began his college career.

Colin committed to the prestigious Cornell University in upstate New York after high school.

"He was drawn to challenging situations in everything he did," Donald says. "The more he was intellectually stressed, the more he seemed to dig in."

But after a tumultuous year at Cornell, Colin chose to transfer.

He says it was the best decision he ever made.

"It just wasn't the best fit for me all around," says the former Cowboy. "I missed the action of being on both sides of ball. It just wasn't worth it. I didn't really care that it was an Ivy League school. I wanted to be where I was going to be happy."

MacNeil said his experiences on the football field prepared him for the challenges he faces in medical school.

He describes football as "turning the volume down on everything else in life."

"Having to study for a mid-term is a lot less stressful then having a 300-pound lineman trying to plant you into the ground," MacNeil says. "You feel you can take on whatever task. If you can make it through a football game you can make it through anything else."

MacNeil always saw football as a stepping stone for greater things.

Football served as the catalyst for what he would eventually strive to achieve.

And he notes that there are many worthy parallels between medical school and football.

He has to deal with different personalities among patients, as he once did with teammates.

He's able to think clearly in chaotic situations, and deal with a wide range of emotional circumstances.

But most importantly, he's able to demonstrate his greatest attribute - leadership.

"I want to have the most amount of power in my hands to help someone to get into a better situation," MacNeil says. "I have to be able to lead by example. I want to live by my own rules. I don't want to have anyone else to blame but myself."

Now in his third year of medical school, MacNeil says he misses competing on the gridiron.

But trading in his cleats, jersey and helmet for scrubs and a lab coat is far more fulfilling.

"I get antsy in the classroom," he says. "Sometimes I need to just butt heads on the football field, but I knew I wanted to do bigger things in terms of leadership."

MacNeil says he would like to return to the sport that he's so passionate about.

Perhaps being a leader of his own team at some point.

He'd love to one day be referred to as coach MacNeil.

But in the meantime, he'll settle for becoming Dr. MacNeil instead.


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