Emerald Ridge's Kallee Jensen as tough as they come
DOUG PACEY; The News Tribune
Kailee Jensen faces daily obstacles that most take for granted.
Getting dressed can be a chore for the Emerald Ridge senior. With arms only a few inches long, pulling up pants, buttoning shirts and slipping on shoes turns into a time-consuming hassle.
“Every day I’m always having to think of different ways to do things,” she said.
Jensen, 17, was born with Holt-Oram Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the heart and upper limbs and is found in fewer than one in 100,000 Americans. She had surgery when she was 4 years old to repair her heart. Her arms are noticeably short, but she does have hands and fingers. When she was younger, doctors predicted that she would have to tape utensils to her arms to feed herself or drive a car. And don’t even think about playing sports, they said.
Encouraged by her parents to overcome any obstacle in her path, Jensen proved the doubters wrong. She eats on her own, drives an unaltered black Honda Civic, and is a three-year starter for Emerald Ridge’s undefeated girls soccer team.
“All those things they said I wouldn’t be able to do, I’ve been able to do,” she said.
A team captain and midfielder for the Jaguars, Jensen has played a significant role in helping her team climb atop the South Puget Sound League South standings. Emerald Ridge coach Dan Stueckle has high praise for Jensen.
“Her passing is just precise,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a better passing player on my squad. She has an awareness of what is around her that most players don’t.”
SPSL South coaches thought enough of Jensen to make her a second team all-league selection last season. That was no sympathy vote, either. Jensen has an incredible sense of her surroundings on the field. Because of her limitations – she knows she can’t muscle opponents off the ball and tries to avoid contact as much as possible – she excels in another areas.
“If anything, it’s made my foot skills better because I rely on my feet so much more,” she said. “I like to find open space. I know my limitations. I know how to avoid traffic. I think I play smarter because of that. I’m always thinking ahead of the game.”
She’s also learned how to do things most players wouldn’t give a second thought to.
“I’ve learned how to fall, how to tuck and roll,” Jensen joked. “I just can’t catch myself and have to be smart about it. But I’ve got a pretty strong lower body, pretty sturdy.”
Jensen’s parents raised her to believe that she didn’t deserve special treatment. Her father, Troy Jensen, 44, is afflicted with the same disorder and has one short arm. He played football, baseball, basketball and track as a kid, and encouraged Kailee to do the same.
“From day one her mother, Julie, and I decided that we didn’t want her to feel any different,” Troy said. “We wanted her to feel as normal as possible. She has never been told that she deserves special treatment. She works hard because of that, and she excels.”
When she was 5, Kailee followed older sister Jill Webb onto the soccer field and has been playing ever since. She had a good example to look up to in Jill, who was The News Tribune’s Player of the Year in 2006.
Jensen never had it easy, though. She constantly had to prove to coaches that she was not a liability on the field.
“I’ve always had to work a little bit harder to prove I can keep up with anyone,” she said. “When I was younger, size was my enemy. Coaches were worried I’d get pushed around. As I’ve played more and more, coaches have realized that I can compete with everyone else out there.”
It wasn’t until Jensen played for Scott Newman during junior high that she truly found her role. Newman installed her at center midfield, Troy Jensen said, and stuck with her “through thick and thin.”
“Those were great years,” Troy Jensen said. “Kailee’s confidence grew even stronger.”
That confidence wasn’t limited to the soccer field; it overflowed into other aspects of her life. She recalled a day in P.E. class when she won a game of king of the court by sinking a 3-pointer. Just last week, she went to Emerald Ridge’s homecoming dance and wore “a cute sleeveless dress,” her dad gushed.
“She is confident,” Troy Jensen said. “She can walk into a room and people will look and stare and it doesn’t bother her. I can’t say that I’m that confident and that makes me proud of her.”
Jensen credits her parents for her outlook.
“My parents, whatever I have wanted to do, they’ve said, ‘How can we figure out a way for her to go out there and do it?’ ” she said. “They never wanted me to feel limited or that I couldn’t do anything.”
When she arrived at Emerald Ridge, Stueckle already had seen her play at Stahl Junior High. He had no second thoughts about putting her into the starting lineup, where she became part of a talented sophomore class that now has the Jaguars prepared to make a run deep into the postseason.
“She’s one of the best-thinking players that I’ve coached,” Stueckle said. “As she receives the ball, she’s already thinking about what to do with it.
“She knows she’s got to have an edge, and that’s her edge.”
Doug Pacey: 253-597-8271