It was just another #TrackFaceTuesday when this tweet came along
I clicked on Jenna’s twitter handle to make sure this picture was of the author of the tweet before I retweeted it. The picture sparked my curiosity, and the next thing I did was turn to Google. Numerous articles popped up about Jenna Fesemyer so I proceeded to read a couple of the articles before I got in touch with her myself. Instead of recapping what I read (and didn’t read—there were PLENTY of articles on Jenna’s incredible story), I decided to get Jenna’s take first hand.
Jenna was born with Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency (PFFD). PFFD is a non-hereditary birth deficiency that varies among those who are born with it. In Jenna’s case, she was born with a shortened leg and without a hip joint. Not only was Jenna born with PFFD, but she also came into this world with a brother and a sister—she is a triplet! Jenna told me that growing up a triplet has been a lot of fun; she said, “My siblings have always been so supportive of me and everything I aspire to do! My brother, Jonathan, often acts as my sprint coach on the track. My sister is very good for moral support.” Just when you think the family connection couldn’t get any stronger, Jenna’s mom is the high school track coach and was Jenna’s gym teacher in elementary school—who Jenna says treated her just like everyone else. Jenna said her dreams also would not have been possible without her dad helping her overcome obstacles and motivate her to reach her goals. Growing up with such strong family roots, Jenna was taught that the word “can’t” was simply not allowed. “Not being able to do something is because you don’t put your mind to it,” Jenna said.
In the midst of my communication with Jenna, the only time she even mentioned PFFD was when she told me what it was and that she was born with it. The rest of my conversation with her was upbeat, encouraging, and truly amazing.
Jenna’s life completely changed in 2012. This was her first year in high school and competing on the varsity team in discus. In 2012, Ohio decided to have a meeting to add adaptive sports to the state track meet. Jenna was the pioneer to try to push this program forward for not only herself, but also all the other athletes with inconveniences across the state. 2013 marked the year of change. That was the year the first Ohio state track meet with wheelchair events was embedded into the high school track and field realm. Specific events were the 100m, 400m, 800m, and seated shot-put. Jenna competed with (not against) the men, not to mention she beat several of them, and set records that she still currently holds in the state of Ohio. In 2014, four other girls joined Jenna at the state competition where she defended all of her titles. In July Jenna went to the National Junior Disability Championships in Ames, Iowa. There she won the wheelchair racing events in the 100m, 200m, 400m, and 800m. Not only did she dominate the racing events, she also made her mark in the field events. Jenna set the national record for the seated discus, placed second in the shot-put, and third in the Javelin!
Two weeks ago in early September, Jenna was rightfully announced an All-American in the 800m, seated shot-put, seated discus, and seated javelin. Along with that, she was named the Female Field Athlete of the Year. She recently was invited by the U.S. Paralympic team to train in Chula Vista, California for a throwing camp. In response to her time in California she said, “It was the best experience of my life. Going to this camp meant that I possibly have the potential to make it on Team USA for the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Along this whole journey, I have met some wonderful people. Those four girls I competed against at State were the most genuine and awe-inspiring girls. My family has really helped me with training and taking me to compete. I honestly can’t believe this is my life, I never dreamed of this!”
Jenna is currently a senior at Southeast High School. Not only is she a star on the track, but she is also the senior class president and she is a four year letterman for the golf team where she was named All-League this season. Jenna is looking to attend Penn State next year to study either Sports Administration or Nutrition with a minor in Spanish. Her ultimate goal is to join Team USA. When I asked her what her biggest challenge has been in her big pursuit, she said, “Balancing school and sports. Athletics is nothing without a good education to accommodate it.”
I hope the next time you are on the track or in the classroom and you say “I can’t,” you think of Jenna. Set your mind to it, work for it, and go get it. No excuses.
Biggest #TrackProb – “Forgetting my running leg for practice!”
If you would like to nominate the next #TrackProbs Student Athlete of the Month, e-mail the athlete’s name and a brief summary of his or her character, athletic, and academic achievements to firstname.lastname@example.org