At just 10 months old, Chris McKeon was left 90% paralyzed following surgery to remove a brain tumor. Today, he’s an Assistant Athletic Director for Communications, former two-sport collegiate athlete and partner of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Vs. Cancer program. We appreciate Chris sharing his experience with us about collegiate athletics, making athletics his profession and defying the odds.
Chris McKeon is living his dream, working as the Assistant Athletic Director for Communications at Curry College, a 4-year NCAA Division III school just seven miles south of Boston. Although the 2020 athletic season has been extremely unusual due to cancellations and postponements caused by COVID-19, Chris is not letting it slow him down. He’s busy adapting and working to keep the Curry community connected through social media and the athletic website by recognizing graduating seniors and focusing on digital engagement. Chris loves every moment of his work – but the road to get here was anything but typical, and it certainly wasn’t easy.
At just 10 months old, Chris underwent surgery at Hasbro Children’s Hospital to remove a softball-sized brain tumor, leaving him 90% paralyzed. The years that followed were full of hospital visits and therapies to help Chris regain his mobility, including fourteen years of physical and occupational therapy and eight years of speech therapy. Gradually, Chris was able to walk and increase his mobility to the point that doctors and his parents were in awe of his progress. The child they once thought would be 90% paralyzed would grow up to run track and become a state champion tennis player by his senior year at Scituate High School.
After high school, Chris attended Mitchell College, where he began pursuing his dream to work in athletic communications. “I had big goals coming out of high school. ESPN was always the dream,” says Chris. Immediately upon enrollment, Chris reached out to the Mitchell Sports Information Director Dave Longolucco with hopes of securing the role of game announcer for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The role had already been filled for the season, but Chris was soon given the opportunity to substitute for the usual announcer – and after that, the role was his. Knowing reliability and commitment were key if he was going to get more responsibility within the athletic department, Chris spent every holiday break driving an hour each way from his home in Rhode Island to Mitchell in Connecticut to announce games.
When he wasn’t studying or gaining as much experience as he could in athletic communications, Chris was a two-sport collegiate athlete, running cross country in the fall and playing on the men’s tennis team in the spring. His fondest memory as an athlete was winning the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) conference tennis tournament with his team as a freshman. The members of that squad are now life-long friends.
His participation on these teams, as well as constant leadership from Longolucco, made Chris fall in love with collegiate athletics. Even after taking an internship with ABC 6 in Providence, R.I. that allowed him to attend the Patriots’ NFL Training Camp, other professional sporting events, high school sports, and more as a media member, he realized his calling was in sports information at a college or university.
After his senior year, Chris diligently sent out his resume and ultimately landed a yearlong post-graduate position as an Athletic Communications Assistant/Multimedia Coordinator at Siena College, before making the move to his current full-time role at Curry.
We caught up with Chris to see what advice he has for college students or recent graduates who are looking to break into the sports industry.
Is there anything you wish you would have done more of in college to accomplish your career goals?
I was involved in so much during college, from being a student athlete to announcing and a lot more. I feel as though I did a great deal in college to set myself up for a successful career. In the job search after college, I realized the importance of networking and how your network can help you accomplish your career goals. Get to know as many people as you can because you never know who is going to be able to help you in the future. I know the individuals who inspired me to get into and contribute in this business are only a phone call away if I need anything. You don’t know the connections people have until you get to know them.
Favorite and least favorite things about working in collegiate athletics?
Favorite: Being at a small school means getting to know the student athletes. You get to see them grow as people, and I have had the experience of becoming a role model for students who hope to one day work in collegiate athletics.
Least favorite: You don’t get a ton of time off and often have to miss events with family because of the hours. But in sports information, I understand the long hours are needed to get the job done, and I love what I do!
Do you feel like being a brain tumor survivor has changed the way you look at, or work toward your career goals? If yes, how so?
Yes, being a brain tumor survivor has changed me as a person. I look at myself and wonder if I would have the same drive if I hadn’t had my tumor? Would I want to show people what I’m made of? Lots of people said I wouldn’t be able to walk, talk, or play sports. I proved them wrong. I continue to have that attitude as a professional.
We know COVID-19 has had a big effect on the sports industry and many recent graduates are now job seekers. While many sports teams and athletic departments are on hiring freezes, do you have any advice for what job seekers can do in the meantime to beef up their resume?
Every job seeker should be taking this opportunity to market themselves. Get active on LinkedIn, make a website, start a blog, anything you can link to your resume. Take this time to better yourself and think about how the pandemic is going to change sports in the future. Prepare yourself professionally and write about it.
Can students and job seekers reach out to you for guidance?
Yes! Email is best: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vs. Cancer empowers any sports team, any athlete and any community to help kids with cancer. As a signature fundraising campaign of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, proceeds help fund child life programs in local hospitals and lifesaving pediatric brain tumor research. To get your team involved with Vs. Cancer, email email@example.com or call 980-925-7557.