Making Strides on the Field and at Home

Making Strides on the Field and at Home

A former player on the first women's soccer team at UVA, Catherine Duncan hasn't stopped pushing the limits of what she's capable as a coach, physical therapist and mom

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Photo by Briana Brough.
Photo by Briana Brough.

Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in McLean, Va., Catherine moved with husband Gordon Merklein and their boys – Sam, a junior at Carrboro High School, and Ethan, an eighth-grader at Culbreth Middle School – to Chapel Hill 12 years ago. The family, with their furry friends Izzy the dog and Humphrey the the gerbil, now calls Southern Village home.


A member of the first women’s soccer team at the University of Virginia in 1985 (and later the co-captain in 1986), Catherine knows a thing or two about making strides. Physical therapist by day, high school soccer coach by night and mom all the moments in between, Catherine’s Chapel Hill life is full and thrilling. When she’s not volunteering as a member for Rainbow Soccer Board, the YMCA’s ad hoc building renovation committee or the Mary Scroggs Elementary School garden committee, she can be found running with friends around town, gardening or sharing a great meal on her back porch with family and friends.


What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I am happy when I awake each morning because I get to enjoy another day with my wonderful, loving family. I find joy in having another day full of opportunities to make a positive impact on others’ lives. I believe everyone has gifts. One of my gifts is the ability to help people discover how to move better and empowering them to heal themselves from pain and injury in doing so. I am passionate about helping young people grow, both as people and as athletes. I feel like I impact the world by helping one person at a time, one team at a time.

What does your day to day look like?

On a typical work day, I see patients early (starting at 7 a.m.!) at UNC Therapy Services at Meadowmont. I head over to Carrboro High School as the assistant women’s soccer coach in the afternoon. The evenings are busy with my own kids: dinner, homework and shuttling to their sports and lessons. On Carrboro game days, we play in the evening so my days are long and full. I enjoy staying fit myself, so I catch my own workouts at different times on different days … but I manage to run, swim, bike or play some soccer most days. I can’t stay still for long!

When did you develop a passion for soccer?

I was raised in northern Virginia, and I started playing soccer when I was 7. I played in the local boys’ league, since there was no place for girls to play. I loved it from the start and played every season I could.

Where do you feel at home in town?

Weaver Street Market and the Armadillo Grill are my two “spots” in Chapel Hill. I shop at Weaver Street so often that many of the people who work at my store even know my member number!

Give us your best “worth-it moment,” a time when all your hard work really paid off in a tangible way.

The Carrboro women’s soccer team winning the state championship in 2015 was one of the real “worth-it” moments for me as a coach. Whenever I see a former patient finish a road race or I get a note from a patient saying they swam a best time or competed well after an injury, I am reminded why I do what I do. But I think perhaps most of all, seeing my children grow into their own people and discovering who they are brings me the greatest joy.