Chelsea Mulkerin made a heartfelt decision when she came to Wakefield School in 2016 as a freshman. Most of her club soccer teammates on the high-caliber VSA 02 NPL squad were feeding into Battlefield, and that’s where the Haymarket resident was slated to go as well.
But she was intrigued by Wakefield and applied. When she was awarded the school’s Archwood Scholarship, offering 50% tuition for four years, that sealed the deal, although she admits, “It was the hardest decision I ever made.”
By going to Wakefield, she opted out of playing for a three-time state champion in the state’s largest classification, a team often watched by NCAA Division I coaches. In return, she embraced a tight-knit school with great academics and the ability to play different sports.
She excelled in volleyball, basketball, squash and soccer as a Fighting Owl, ending her career as Fauquier Times 2020 Wakefield Girls Athlete of the Year. She was also valedictorian, sharing the honor with James Reid, Wakefield’s Boys Athlete of the Year, and her boyfriend.
In soccer she made first team Delaney Athletic Conference for three years and led the Owls in scoring each year.
Always a defensive player, Mulkerin transitioned to striker at Wakefield, and thrived, scoring 18 goals as a junior.
“I liked how different it was from the position I’d been playing for eight to 10 years. I was tired of playing defense and almost quit soccer, but playing offense brought back my passion for the game. As an offensive player, I knew how the defenders thought and knew how to get around them," she said. "It was an easy transition."
The 5-foot-7 Mulkerin relished playing with her younger sister Lainey, a rising junior.
She’s still wistful her final season was canceled by the pandemic. “I was excited, I was going to be captain and get to play my senior year with my little sister. We were going to be the dynamic duo,” said Mulkerin.
“Playing soccer with her at Wakefield is one of my best memories of high school. She is my secret weapon on the field, and we have an incredible dynamic when we play together.”
Mulkerin was a setter and outside hitter in volleyball her freshman and sophomore years. She played competitive basketball as a club player, but only competed at Wakefield her freshman year.
She picked up squash at Wakefield and played three years. As a senior, she was the only girl on the squad, played as the No. 6 seed and was team captain.
Her start in squash came after her parents won a free lesson at an auction. Noting she was a freshman and some popular upperclassmen were running the session, “I was mortified to go. Lainey went with me and when we got there, we could not hit the ball. We were wearing these ugly goggles and it was so embarrassing. But I ended up loving the sport.”
She said squash helped bring her and Reid together. “I started dating him that summer. We played a lot together. He’s been on the team since seventh grade. I wanted to get better and be as good as him.”
She said the high cardio demands of squash help her cope with a circulation disorder she has called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), which sees an abnormally large increase in heart rate when a person goes from a horizontal to standing position.
Mulkerin said her heart rate is often 200 beats a minute while exercising and can be around 100 when resting. “It’s been described as constantly living in a state of what feels like a hangover. A lot of times POTS patients are too tired to work out,” she said.
For Mulkerin, working out is a lifestyle, and her condition doesn’t stop her.
"Having POTS forces me to do high intensity cardio workouts daily. Squash is incredibly tiring but it's so much fun and so good for my body. I use mind over matter to force myself to get out there and play, and afterwards I feel great," says Mulkerin. "But it's never easy."
She eats a lot of sodium, including “Splits” pretzels, and doesn’t mind sharing details of her condition, which occurs more often in women. She wrote her senior thesis on POTS and aspires to be a pediatric cardiologist, which could involve helping others with the condition.
Mom Kristin says it's “not easy watching Chelsea go through life living in a constant state of brain fog and exhaustion, but she hasn't let it slow her down one bit.”
She’ll attend the University of Virginia and target a medical career. She notes going to UVa. will be different this fall, but is embracing being on campus even with all classes on-line.
She hopes to play club soccer, continuing a sport that began when she was 4.