Caitlin with her parents and receiving an award.
Caitlin with her parents and receiving an award.
Many of Caitlin Hupe's peers at Bishop Maginn High School in Albany know she's a star athlete and top student, but only her closest friends know about her responsibilities at home.

She doesn't want sympathy, and she doesn't think people would understand what it takes to care for a parent with a disability.

"No one really knows anything about me," Caitlin admitted. "And I would never [tell someone that they] have it easy, because I don't know what they have going on."

The senior recently won a scholar-athlete basketball award from Section 2 of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. She's vying to be valedictorian of her class and deliberating among top colleges for pre-medical studies. She plays basketball and softball, enters academic competitions and works at a pizza place and a daycare center.

Mom with MS
Caitlin likes to hang out with friends or go to a church youth group in her free time, but will drop everything if her mother, Michelle, needs her. Mrs. Hupe has had multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, for 18 years. She has progressive muscle weakness and has used a wheelchair for a decade; she needs help with personal care, getting in and out of bed and eating.

Mrs. Hupe only receives medical help a few hours a week; Caitlin, her father and her sister take shifts assisting her the rest of the time. Mrs. Hupe is brought to tears when she thinks about the sacrifices her daughter has made for her: "It means a lot to me."

But instead of thinking of it as a burden, Caitlin believes her mother's lot in life has helped shape her.

"I learned that I had to have faith, that everything happens for a reason," said the teen parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi in Albany. "I experienced this my whole life, and now I know I want to help people [as a doctor]. I always want to give my mom hope.

"I always wonder, 'If my mom wasn't in a wheelchair, who would I be?'" she said. "Everyone becomes who they are because of the circumstances that are put in front of them."

Knowing that her mom had to quit working "motivated me to want to do better," Caitlin said. "I wanted to become successful. I'm doing [well] in school for my mom."

She's also inspired by her father, Charlie, a volunteer EMT: "He works hard to provide for the family and he's always helpful with my mom."

Career plans
Caitlin is contemplating becoming an emergency room surgeon. "A lot of [patients] are nervous or scared," she said. "My mom's disease was unplanned. I want to let them know [they can get through it].

"Sometimes doctors are just quick to get in and get out," she continued. "But I think it's good to let patients know they're not just another number."

The aspiring doctor is intrigued by the challenge of reconciling theology and science: "It's kind of intimidating that this patient's life is in your hands, but it depends on if [God] wants this person into heaven yet."

Mr. Hupe set up Caitlin's first basketball hoop - at 10 feet high - when she was in second grade. She came in third out of more than 50,000 boys and girls in a Knights of Columbus foul shot competition and later made 88 out of 100 free throws at a statewide competition.

Caitlin prays before games to deliver her teammates and opponents from harm; she has suffered three concussions on the court and now has post-concussion syndrome. But nothing seems to deter a girl her parents describe as intensely determined.

"She never passes up a challenge; she takes it head first," Mr. Hupe said. "She's one of a kind. I've got the mold. I'm going to sell it if something ever happens to her."