Zach Hutchko (BS ’20, MS ’21) spent much of his time at the University of Denver in the Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, sporting his No. 35 jersey and competing as a member of the men’s lacrosse team.
He picked up a lifelong passion for the sport from his father, who also played in college. But now, Hutchko is committed to another passion: bringing health care, veterinary services and his favorite sport to rural communities in northwestern Nicaragua.
In high school, Hutchko developed an interest in psychology, which he went on to study in his undergraduate years. Amid a hectic schedule of classes, practices and games, he made time to work as a research assistant in the University’s Human Dynamics Lab and Social Detection Lab. A freshman-year injury prevented Hutchko from playing during the 2017 season but made him eligible for a fifth year on the team—a year he used to further his education.
“I knew that I was going to be and wanted to be in the clinical side of health care, but being able to play a fifth year and having the opportunity to learn the clerical side of health care—how it works in administration—I took advantage of that to get the best of both worlds,” he says. By the end of his fifth year, Hutchko had earned his master’s degree in health care management and was ready to put his skills to work.
Shortly after graduation, an email landed in his mailbox advertising an opportunity for students to volunteer in Nicaragua through the Health Outreach for Latin America (HOLA) Foundation. Although no longer a student, Hutchko wanted to get involved, so he contacted DU alumnus and HOLA Foundation director Joseph Parker (BA ’12, MS ’18).
In August 2022, Hutchko traveled to León, Nicaragua, alongside nine DU students to provide health care and veterinary resources to local communities. There, Hutchko and the team cared for more than 600 pets, working animals and livestock. The volunteers also shadowed obstetricians, surgeons and general doctors at nine clinics, gaining valuable hands-on experience while providing much-needed support for rural populations.
In addition, the HOLA Foundation joined with MotherWise, a program formed through a DU-Denver Health partnership to empower mothers and their families, to research the state of sex education in Nicaraguan schools. Parker suggested that Hutchko run a lacrosse clinic to give Nicaraguan students a healthy break from surveys and questionnaires. Hutchko knew it would be a challenge to get all the necessary equipment into Nicaragua, so he turned to the people he knew best. The DU lacrosse community raised funds, and with the assistance of two of his former teammates, Ethan Walker (BA ’20, MA ’21) and Jack Hannah (BA ’21), Hutchko was able to purchase 50 sticks.
Hosting the lacrosse clinic required a lot of improvisation. “We didn’t throw a practice together because they didn’t know how to play. And we didn’t even have nets,” he says. Instead, the clinic—held on a baseball field—centered around the basics: passing, catching and picking up the ball. Relay races and farthest-throw contests offered students a chance to show off their new skills.
Hutchko plans to return to Nicaragua in March to support health care workers and run another lacrosse clinic. In the meantime, Hutchko and the HOLA Foundation are raising money, via a GoFundMe site, to support OB/GYN clinics and expand their ability to provide pediatric care to communities that need it most.
“These are people that don’t have access [to] birth control supplies or contraception,” Hutchko says. “We’re sharing the resources that we’re so lucky to have here with people who don’t get those resources as easily.”