When alone in a kayak with a South African shark lurking below the surface, Catherine McLeod ’07 can out-paddle it. When left behind in New Zealand without a passport or a visa, McLeod can make it back to Yale in less than two weeks. And when left on a squash court with any collegiate opponent, McLeod can break her down with a grueling game of attrition.
“She makes the best of situations,” teammate Nicky Shiels ’07 said. “She doesn’t crack under pressure.”
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The Kiwi is virtually invincible. In her four seasons at Yale, the former New Zealand junior champion has suffered only one loss, a blip when compared to her distinctions as an Ivy League Rookie of the Year, a three-time All-Ivy player and a three-time All-American. Three Ivy League Championships and three national titles top off her already-stellar individual career.
With her incredible work ethic, high level of fitness and adventurous spirit, McLeod always manages to come out on top, even if she does come from Down Under.
“She’s a pedigree, a thoroughbred. She’s obviously a strong athlete,” head coach Dave Talbott said.
But McLeod brings more than just her athletic abilities to the team, as noted by her coach and teammates.
“She didn’t easily walk into the No. 1 spot on our team,” teammate Tara Wadhwa ’09 said. “Anything that is really important to her, she puts honesty and integrity into.”
And squash is clearly one thing that is very important to McLeod. She devotes time outside of practice to developing her skills, can beat the entire men’s team on runs and carries her excellence without arrogance, her coach and teammates said.
“She’s free spirited and genuine in a way that is very unpretentious,” Talbott said. “She’s a really refreshing personality.”
Her teammates appreciate the experienced player’s extensive knowledge of squash and her willingness to listen and help her teammates to improve different skills. They are also impressed by her ability to stay calm in any situation. Several of the girls said they have never seen her nervous in a squash match and that she downplayed the loss of her passport and visa to “a bit of a worry.”
Perhaps McLeod keeps her cool so well because she lives her life by the moment. This is a trait McLeod takes from her father, whom she said inspires her to “just love living life.”
Born on the north shore of Auckland into an active family of squash players, it was only natural for Catherine to start playing the sport at the age of 12. She was first coached by her dad — until she started beating him. All three McLeod siblings were nationally ranked junior squash players.
Along with excelling at squash, the McLeod family hikes, sails, surfs and does yoga together. This past Christmas, they spent the day hanging around their pool and playing soccer hackey, a pastime that her American friends would call juggling.
Catherine’s favorite thing to do in New Zealand, though, is to walk along Takapuna Beach every morning and climb the lava rocks on the volcanic island just offshore.
Back at Yale, Catherine wears reminders of home — a black necklace with a shiny cream shell and her brother’s New Zealand army dog tags hanging from it — and brings her playful spirit back to her fellow Elis.
Her teammates describe Kittycat, as they call her, as adventurous, loyal and quirky.
“She’s someone who brings a lot of fun to the table,” captain Kate Rapisarda ’07 said. “She’s carefree — she comes with no baggage.”
She leaves her literal baggage everywhere, though. Catherine has a habit of dropping off stuffed pieces of luggage with her friends to be picked up (or not) at an undetermined date. The girls are currently debating how popular they would be on eBay.
What she does keep on hand, though, are various little balls to play with. Her teammates said that while they are all socializing at a party, Catherine will often be playing soccer hackey off in the corner.
No matter the location, whether it’s a party or the court, it’s hard to take the New Zealand out of this Kiwi.
She has a tattoo of the New Zealand fern on her lower back, is an avid fan of the All Black’s rugby team and loves to talk of her home, even if she’s far from Auckland.
“Everyone in New Zealand has a real ambition and drive to get out and see the world,” McLeod said. “You have to get out to see what it has to offer.”
And now that she is out of the country, Catherine does not know when she will return. But she takes consolation in the fact that, one day, she will. And while she is traveling, the adventurer will be making the most of her experience.
As Sheils said, Catherine is the one they will always expect to buy a one-way ticket somewhere and fly off “with no money, no luggage and maybe a squash racket, and she’ll just get by.”