A Different Kind of Athlete

We found out that Jenny was hearing impaired, whenshe was four and a half years old. Several surgeriesand speech classes later, when she was seven,we found out that Jenny had JuvenileRheumatoid Arthritis.

She could not put pressure on the heels of herfeet, so she walked on tiptoe, and when thepain became unbearable, I carried her.Jenny was fortunate, though, because shedid not suffer the deformities, often associatedwith JRV.

All through grade school, and on into highschool, Jenny suffered, yet never complained.She took her medicine, and I would oftenwrap her feet in steaming towels, and holdher until the pain eased. But, as soon asshe could withstand the pain, Jenny,immediately, carried on, as though shewere pain free.

She wore a smile on her face, a song onher lips, and a love and acceptance of others,that was, simply, amazing. I don't rememberher ever voicing self-pity. She ran, when shecould run. She played when she could play,and she danced when she could dance. And,when she could do none of these things, shetook her medicine, and she waited until she could.

Jenny, a beautiful blonde, with warm browneyes, was never a cheerleader. She nevercompeted in a sport. She could not eventake part in a Gym Class, though she tookthe same health class four years in a row,just so she could pass with a substitutecredit each year. She joined the band.She won a place in the Governor's Schoolfor the Arts; yet, no one in the Charleston,South Carolina School System knew whatto do with Jenny. The perimeters were,simply, not in place to deal with a student,who was both active and handicapped.

Jenny continued to have one surgery afteranother on her ears, all through school.Her hearing improved to 60%, and shetaught herself to read lips. She carried apillow to school, all through high school, andonce, when she suddenly experiencedcrippling pain, her friends scooped her up,and carried her from class to class.

She was totally mainstreamed, popular, andfunny, attending every football game, cheeringthe team on, carrying her pillow everywhere shewent, so that she could cushion the pain, whenshe sat down. Then came her senior year.She would be considered for scholarships;however school activities, especially sports,could often mean the difference betweenreceiving an award or losing out.

So Jenny came to a decision; and in her quirky,unorthodox manner, she began to bombard thehigh school football coach. She begged. Shepleaded. She promised. She got her best friendto sign up with her. Finally the coach gave in,with the admonition, "If you miss ONE game,you're out!" So, Jenny became Manager of theGarrett High School Football Team.

She carried big buckets of water to herteammates. She bandaged knees andankles before every game. She massagednecks and backs. She gave pep talks. Shewas continually at their beck and call, and itturned out to be one of the best years for GarrettHigh School Football Team, in its twenty-fiveyear history. Often Jenny could be seencarrying a bucket of water in each hand, nearlydragging them, along with her pillow tuckedunder her arm.

When asked why he thought that the teamwas winning all their games, even in the faceof injury, one linebacker explained, in his soft,Charleston drawl, "Well, when you've beenknocked down, and you can't seem to move,you look up and see Jenny Lewis, limpingacross the field, dragging her buckets andcarrying her pillow. It makes anything therest of us may suffer seem pretty insignificant."

At the Senior Awards ceremony, Jenny receiveda number of scholarships to College of Charleston.Her favorite scholarship, however, was a smallone from the Charleston Women's Club. ThePresident of the Women's Club listed Jenny'saccomplishments, starting with her grades,and ending with an excited, "...and the first girlto letter in football, in Garrett High School history!!"


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