All things being equal — and they most certainly were in trying to choose between Joelle LaFreniere and Libby Gorske as Scholastic Athlete of the Year — only one conclusion made sense.
Choose them both.
Their accomplishments — scholastically, athletically, civically, even musically — are that impressive.
LaFreniere is class valedictorian at Monadnock Regional High School, on her way to study biomedical engineering with a minor in physics at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
Gorske, a Keene High School senior, earned a weighted GPA of 4.25 and will major in business administration with a minor in German at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Long-range, she has her sights set on law school, with a career goal of becoming a child advocacy lawyer.
The pair are remarkably similar in their pursuits, inside and outside the classroom, yet they come from vastly different backgrounds that have shaped who they are today. While both are talented athletes, they share a binding civic-mindedness of helping those less fortunate than themselves, with goals of making it their career life’s work.
Bilingual, Gorske is a newcomer to the Monadnock Region, having lived in Landstuhl, Germany, for nine years, where her father, Dr. Andrew Gorske, was chief of gastroenterology service at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The family moved to Keene her sophomore year, and she is well-versed in travel, having been to 30 countries. Her father is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and the family moved quite often.
In three years at Keene, Gorske immersed herself in academics and extracurricular activities. Sports-wise, she was captain of Keene’s swimming and lacrosse teams, helping to set three school relay records as the Blackbirds won the gold medal in the 200-yard freestyle relay in the NHIAA Division I State Championships. Playing defense in lacrosse, she led the Blackbirds in forcing turnovers and plans on continuing in the sport at Messiah.
Off the field, Gorske was secretary of the National Honor Society; leader of the all-female a cappella singing group Momentum; a member of the coed a cappella group Amplitude; inducted into the World Language Honor Society for excellence in German; volunteer at the Community Kitchen in Keene; a member of the worship team at Grace Evangelical Free Church in Spofford, where she sang and played violin; and a timer for Keene State College swim meets. She has also taught swimming lessons and works as a lifeguard for the Keene Family YMCA.
Still, she found the adjustment from Germany to Keene challenging. “I came in and I didn’t know anyone, and that was rough,” she says. “It was the social adjustment, which for me was the toughest part. … The demographics were different than what I saw in the military.”
She has been active in sports and singing since she was young, and says her parents have been major influences in her life. “Her mother played softball and basketball, and she has an older sister who attends Cornell University. “My family has always been very active and very athletic,” she says.
Although Keene has a sister city in Germany — Einbeck — Gorske laughs and says, “I never even heard of it before I came to Keene.” Einbeck is about a six-hour drive from Landstuhl, which is in southeastern, Germany.
Dedic ated to helping ki ds
Like Gorske, working for children is LaFreniere’s ultimate career goal, though through an engineering track rather than the court system. And, like Gorske, academics, sports and music have been pillars in LaFreniere’s educational journey. Last summer LaFreniere was part of the GoBabyGo program at the St. Paul’s School of Advanced Studies in Concord, and had an internship at Keene State College under professor Jason Pellettieri.
GoBabyGo designs mobile vehicles — baby cars — for young children who have disabilities and can’t walk. “We designed cars so they could drive around. Studies have shown that children who aren’t mobile are far likely not to succeed later in life. That had a big impact on me,” LaFreniere says.
At Keene State, she interned with Pellettieri, who works with students on the molecular mechanisms of regeneration, “like Mickey Mouse in ‘Fantasia,’ ” LaFreniere adds with a chuckle. She says there’s not a class she doesn’t like, from math and science to art, particularly drawing, and creative writing.
LaFreniere was born in China and moved to the Monadnock Region when she was 10 months old, adopted by her parents, Deborah and Gary LaFreniere of North Swanzey. She started playing flute when she was in 4th grade, and this year was a drum major in Monadnock’s acclaimed marching band. Next year it will perform in the Outback Bowl football game parade in Tampa, Fla.; as a freshman she traveled to Disney World with the band.
“It’s really impacted my life in so many ways; it’s been a really cool experience to be a part of a really talented and awesome band,” she says.
Other extracurricular activities include the Monadnock Interact Club; Superintendent’s Club; National Honor Society; student government; the National Spanish Honor Society; and the Dude Be Nice Committee. She earned numerous school awards, including outstanding achievement in physics and excellence in Spanish. She is a STEM Scholar and will receive the Diploma of Distinction.
Sports-wise, track and cross country are her fortes, with a focus on long-distance events. The 800 meters was one of her specialties, though she would compete in whatever event would help the Huskies maximize their team point totals.
She’s not sure where academics will lead her beyond UNH, but has her eyes on helping children in the engineering arena. “I’d like to be on a design team; I want to be the one who’s thinking up ideas and strategy,” she says.