LaFontaine-Kussmann Has Battled More Than Soccer Opponents
Oct. 16, 2010
By: Rachel Blaj
SEATTLE - When the average person thinks of the kind of dedication it takes to compete as a Division I athlete, a few characteristics immediately come to mind. Found highly ranked on this list might be words along the lines of `diligent,' `perseverant,' or as Jorde LaFontaine-Kussmann--the women's goalkeeper here at the University of Washington--half-jokingly puts it, "downright impressive."
Coincidentally, she took the title of Pac-10 Student-Athlete of the Week last week after her outstanding shutout performance to win 1-0 against Arizona State. Yet, while the honor of this title is a true testament to her `downright impressiveness,' it pales in comparison to another very considerable accomplishment this young woman has to show for herself - as a cancer survivor.
Coming into college as a top-20 high school recruit, she had a bright future ahead of her and a huge decision to make regarding the University she would choose to attend. After committing to Cal in 2007, she felt she'd found "the perfect fit," and was more than happy to leave her rainy hometown of Lakewood, Wash., to experience a new environment on a team she was proud to join. One can only imagine the absolute shock she felt in early October of her freshman year at Berkeley after leaving the hospital diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
The invasive nature of the rapidly-growing tumor in her chest hardly gave her time to process the situation; "In a week and a half I went from having minor chest pains that were a little bothersome, to being bent over not able to breathe, waking up in the middle of the night just trying to get a breath in," she said.
She immediately underwent six rounds of intensive chemotherapy, each spaced apart by three weeks, along with daily radiation - all to combat the tumor.
During the time of her recovery, her hardships were met with continuous support and encouragement. From the on-going phone calls and cards she received, to the entire men's soccer team coming home from an away game with their heads shaved--she felt extremely touched by the support, which she maintains got her through her battle.
Fortunately the treatment was effective and in March of 2008 she was told that there were no longer any traces of the tumor left in her body. She frankly admits that this news did not come as any surprise. It was never a question of `if' she would recover, but rather `when.'
"I think one of the biggest things for me going through cancer was knowing I was going to beat it. It was going to be hard along the way but it wasn't going to get me--I also knew I would play soccer afterwards," she says.
Staying true to her word, she began training four months later, and after her sophomore season came to a close at Berkeley, she decided it was time to head a little closer to home. After contacting head coach and Cal-alum Lesle Gallimore about joining the team here at Washington, she made the move and now says that she feels at home with her fellow players and coaching staff--especially goalkeeping coach Amy Griffin.
Although having to sit out her junior year due to NCAA stipulation was frustrating, she realizes that her time on the bench allowed her to see the game from a different perspective and enable her to grow as a player. This must be true, as she has already set herself apart as a valuable component to the team with an impressive 32 save record and seventy-eight goal save percentage.
She continues this season with precision in the box, and the love she still holds for the game. More importantly, she continues to carry with her the refuse-to-be-defeated attitude that got her through cancer. She gives credit to her parents and goalkeeping trainer Kelly Bendixen, who have instilled in her from early on her a drive and motivation to succeed. She also gives Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma credit for teaching her that, "It is what it is." Life is full of roadblocks, but they must be met with strength and perseverance.
Recalling the event of her diagnosis is something her resilient mentality allows for with ease, and when asked about her experience with lymphoma, she responds by saying that she enjoys when people want to learn more about it since cancer carries such a stigma. This October marks the three year anniversary of herrecovery, and although the chance of her disease returning still exists, this `downright impressive' athlete says she chooses not to think about it--she instead chooses to take life one day at a time, focusing on the present and not the past. There is no doubt that she will continue to excel throughout her final year of eligibility next year, and looks forward to the soccer she still has left to play.
LaFontaine-Kussmann and the Huskies take on No. 1 Stanford on Sunday at noon in Palo Alto, Calif.