Lily Rosenthal laces up her skates just like any other 12-year-old.
However, Lily isn’t a typical girls hockey player: she has prosthetic legs.
“I don’t think about it,” Lily said.
Lily’s prosthetics have never slowed her down. The soon-to-be seventh grader at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie has been showing southern Wisconsin foes she’s a tough and determined goalie.
“It really just shows a lot about who she is as a person,” said Larry Clemens, who is the director of High Performance Goaltending and has coached Lily for three years. “What people take for granted, she can just kind of make an adjustment on the fly and kind of figure it out, which is fantastic.”
Lily traveled down an interesting road even before strapping on hockey equipment for the first time.
She was born with fibular hemimelia and didn’t have fibula in both her legs. She also was missing some toes.
Lily spent the first 2 ½ years of her life in her native northern China before being adopted by Paul and Laura Rosenthal. With the abnormalities in her feet — she also had club feet — it was tough for her to walk. The family had Lily try special casting for one year to try and correct the issue.
When Lily was 3 ½ years old, her parents were faced with a tough decision.
“We did talk to a lot of specialists and they said you have a couple of choices,” Laura said. “We could do a lot of surgeries and try to save her feet but there’s no guarantee she could end up in a wheelchair or we could do one surgery and amputate and with all of the technology in prosthetics now, she’d probably live a normal, active life.”
The Rosenthals, who were living in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the time, wanted to give their daughter a regular life and opted for amputation. On the third day following the surgery, a physical therapist came to Lily’s room to work with her on walking.
“The physical therapist handed her a walker and she pushed the walker back at the physical therapist and walked without it,” Laura said. “That’s kind of how she approaches everything, she does it on her terms. She’s pretty determined. If she wants to do something, she’ll find a way to do it.”
That’s also a pretty apt description of Lily on the ice. She started skating at age 5 because that was what her older sister was doing.
“She would play with other siblings while the others were at practice, they would all play around the rink,” Laura said. “When it came time for her to learn how to skate, she wanted to learn to skate. We encouraged her to, but we weren’t sure she could. Just like everything else, she could.”
Moving to Wisconsin when she was 4, Lily participated in learn-to-skate programs in Sun Prairie and Stoughton.
Playing on the DC (Dane County) Diamonds U10 squad at age 9, Lily’s coach asked her if she wanted to try goalie – just like her sister. She jumped at the chance.
“We kind of discouraged her from playing goalie because it’s very stressful,” Laura said. “Her coaches approached us a couple of years ago and asked us if she’d be interested in playing goalie, and she had been bugging us for about a year to play goalie. Santa brought her some goalie pads one year.”
Lily’s passion for being a netminder hasn’t stopped since. She’s currently playing on two teams: DC Diamonds U12 and the Wisconsin Wildcats U12, a AAA team that skates in the spring.
When Lily is competing, she is treated like any other player by her coaches and fellow teammates.
“Honestly, with her mentality, I don’t think she’d want it that way,” Clemens said. “She wants to just be treated and seen as a goalie, and that’s how we want to treat her and see her as well.”
Laura loves being at the rink to watch her daughter play. But being a goalie’s mom can be difficult.
“Sometimes I worry because she’ll let some pucks in and I get upset,” Laura said. “But then I have to take a step back and realize that we’re just grateful she’s out there at all and that she’s playing the sport that she loves.”
Lily isn’t just playing hockey recreationally; she takes it quite seriously. She gets together with Clemens often for one-on-one instruction.
Clemens has watched Lily improve greatly between the pipes in just the three years he’s worked with her.
“She’s been kind of had to outthink the other goalies in her age group, so it’s more of a mental growth than a physical growth,” Clemens said. “Physically, she’s gotten better. She’s been able to do more things that we’re asking her to – part of it is strength, part of it is just growing. But I think the mental side of it, she’s far above the other 12-year-olds that she’s competing with because she has to learn to understand the game.”
Lily — who would like to play hockey at the high school and college levels in the future — said she has great hockey knowledge, which helps her excel at her position.
There are some limitations to what Lily can do while on the ice, but she pushes through.
“There’s obviously good days and bad days on her ability to move or just her ability to drop down into saves,” Clemens said. “A lot of goaltending is getting down and getting back up, but she’s able to kind of manipulate the game to her strengths, which is just a sign of a good hockey IQ.”
Clemens has always acknowledged Lily’s sincerely positive attitude at the rink. Overcoming having to play with prosthetics says a lot about who Lily is as a person.
“She’s super inspiring,” Clemens said. “She’s never had a bad day because of it. She just keeps going through it, works hard and does her thing.”