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Merion Mercy field hockey coach Gretta Ehret remains 'positive’ as she battles metastatic breast cancer

Merion Mercy field hockey coach Gretta Ehret was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in August, but that didn't stop her from coaching her team. She never missed a game during Golden Bears' run to the District 1 Class 2A title.

Merion Mercy field hockey coach Gretta Ehret with the framed Merion field hockey jersey she was given at the end of the year awards banquet to commemorate her many victories as coach of the team. She coached this season while undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
Merion Mercy field hockey coach Gretta Ehret with the framed Merion field hockey jersey she was given at the end of the year awards banquet to commemorate her many victories as coach of the team. She coached this season while undergoing treatment for breast cancer.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

Hours before the District 1 Class 2A field hockey championship game, Gretta Ehret laid in a hospital bed on the oncology floor at the University of Pennsylvania’s hospital.

The Merion Mercy coach started a new form of chemotherapy during the week of the game, and she went to the emergency room due to a bad reaction to the medicine.

She had a fever that rose over 101 degrees. She was hooked up to IVs flowing fluid and antibiotics into her body.

But Ehret couldn’t get her field hockey team’s upcoming title game off her mind.

She pleaded with her doctors to the point where she made a deal with them.

If she didn’t have a fever for more than 24 hours, she would get discharged.

Ehret did that.

With only so much time to get to Methacton High for the championship game, Ehret’s parents drove her from the hospital, and her Golden Bears didn’t disappoint.

Merion Mercy edged Upper Perkiomen, 4-3, in overtime to win the District 1 Class 2A title game in November.

“It was pure joy,” Ehret said. “To have been able to be there and pass out the medals and trophies to my girls, it was one of the most memorable days… as soon we won I was sobbing.”

In August during Merion Mercy’s preseason, Ehret was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Despite the news, she was still able to coach the Golden Bears, who went 19-4-1 and won the Catholic Academy League championship along with districts, for the whole season.

Ehret only missed time from practice when she needed to get treatment or attend doctor’s appointments. She never missed a game.

Ehret, 32, is a Philadelphia native who played field hockey and lacrosse at Penn Charter. She also played field hockey at Penn, became the team captain, and received All-Ivy honors.

Ehret said she doesn’t have any history of cancer in her family, so the news was initially shocking, but she was determined to get back on the sidelines and coach field hockey.

“I knew how much potential this team had … and I didn’t want to miss out on that,” Ehret said. “It also provided me a bit of a sense of normalcy in a very hectic time for myself. I really wanted to coach hockey. It’s what I love and a really, really good way for me to forget that I had cancer.”

In the District championship against Upper Perkiomen, the Golden Bears trailed, 3-2, in the second half. After the goal that put the Indians up by one goal, Merion Mercy players, including senior midfielder Alex Lavelle, huddled on the field together to discuss the game plan moving forward.

“We were like, ‘We’re playing this game for Gretta,’ ” said Lavelle, who’s a Richmond recruit. “She came this far to coach us and see us do well. We need to play for her.”

Merion Mercy did just that.

Emily Hauk scored one of her two goals that sent the game into overtime late in the second half. Then, Lavelle recorded the overtime winner on a pass from the corner to give the Golden Bears the win. Grace Lopresti also added one goal.

“[Gretta’s] a really selfless person,” Lavelle said. “She poured her heart onto the team, dedicated so much time to us instead of worrying about herself. Then, at practices, you never heard her complain at anything. She always looked at the bright side and the more positive side. She’s a great woman and she’s a great coach.”

Ehret said the support she’s received from everyone, including the Philadelphia field hockey community, has been overwhelming.

A GoFundMe started for Ehret by Aly Beckmann, one of her best friends, has raised more than $100,000 to this date. Schools in the area like Penn Charter, Souderton, Mount St. Joseph, Sacred Heart Academy, Wissahickon, among others, donated to the cause.

Jackie O’Connor, mother of Merion Mercy sophomore defender Kelly O’Connor, said she felt like she needed to help Ehret during her battle with cancer.

O’Connor reached out to the owner of My Saint My Hero, a company that makes wearable blessings that bring hope, faith and purpose into everyday life, to make bracelets for Ehret. The company agreed to make the bracelets and send 25% of its profits straight to Ehret.

Alex McMahan, the owner of Mainline Field Hockey and coach at Gwynedd Mercy, also helped out. She made pink t-shirts in support of Ehret that had “DREAM CRAZY” on the back in reference to Serena Williams’ commercial with Nike that aired in early 2019. The t-shirts raised more than $11,000 for Ehret.

The phrase “DREAM CRAZY” became Merion Mercy’s motto for the season after Ehret showed her team the video early in the year.

“My kids have had a lot of coaches, but no one has been like Gretta,” O’Connor said. “She’s one in a million. She really is.”

“She has insane talent,” O’Connor added. “Her joy is mentoring young women and it’s natural. It exudes from her personality. This is her joy. That makes her unique. It’s not just a job to her. It’s her passion.”

Ehret has developed an ability to connect with others through teaching at a young age. It led to a teaching career in Philadelphia public schools until she quit to start Fit Hockey Academy, an independent training company started with her sister, Emilee Ehret.

Ehret said Fit Hockey Academy got off to a great start, but she had to pump the brakes on her work because of her cancer.

But even before Ehret’s teaching career or independent training work, she started her first teaching lesson at her home in her backyard playing field hockey with her sister.

Emilee Ehret said her sister showed her the fundamentals of field hockey and other skills like the “Indian dribble,” which consists of pushing the ball rapidly from right to left and then from left to right repeatedly by turning the stick.

The work they did together influenced Emilee Ehret to follow her sister’s footsteps. She became an All-American and All-State field hockey player at Mount St. Joseph. She also won two Big Ten titles at Penn State. Now, she’s the field hockey coach at Springside Chestnut Hill.

“She knew how to cater to my personality and motivate me to get better,” Emilee Ehret said. “I think she does a great job with all sorts of different types of individuals, so I think that’s what is so special about her.”

So far, Ehret’s treatment is heading in the right direction. She credits her time as a student-athlete for her ability to remain positive and optimistic while fighting cancer.

A week after the district championship win, Ehret went to the doctors for chemotherapy. During the visit, she let her doctor know her team won the championship after he let her leave to coach the game.

But her doctor already knew the result.

“By the way, I wanted to let you know, we won,” Ehret said to her doctor.

“You don’t think I looked it up like the next day, are you kidding me?” her doctor said. “You were going crazy about this game.”

That’s just who Ehret is.

Whether it’s coaching field hockey, teaching in Philadelphia, running her own training business with her sister, or fighting cancer, she’s going to continue to dream crazy.

“There’s a lot of things that cancer is trying to teach me and I’m slowly trying to find appreciation for the things that it’s trying to teach me,” Ehret said. “Sometimes I’m mad at cancer or I’m sad or frustrated, but there’s also a lot of lessons in life that it’s trying to teach me.

“I’ve really been pushing myself to react in a way that’s positive, encouraging and I get a lot of that from the field hockey community,” she added. “All the messages of support have inspired me to remain positive and hold on to a lot of hope and believe.”