She may have switched from forward to midfield this season, but Century senior Jessie Nelson is still a go-to player for the Century soccer team. Nelson, who hopes to become an elementary school teacher, also plays lacrosse and is a member of the Student Government Association and National Honor Society.
She has managed to derive something positive from the most traumatic experience of her life - the sudden death of her father five years ago. As a team captain, she draws on that experience to help teammates deal with their problems.
I understand we're right around the five-year anniversary of when your father, Robert, passed away. Can you tell me a little about the circumstances?
It happened Nov. 2, 2002, and it was really sudden. We don't really know exactly how it happened. He had heart problems and diabetes, but we didn't ever really think it would happen that quickly - just spur of the moment like that. It was really unexpected, but we never really got a definite answer about what happened ... just something with his heart.
For anyone, much less a 12-year-old in seventh grade, that must be incredibly difficult to reconcile. What did you do to try and deal with it?
My mom lost her dad when she was 13. That made it a little bit easier because she knew what I was going through. All my classmates sent home letters, and I just talked to my mom about it. I tried not to think about it. I got out and went back to doing things, and that helped a lot because it kind of kept my mind off it, instead of sitting and dwelling on what had happened.
Was your father the one who had primarily gotten you into sports?
It was mutual between him and my mom. They both wanted me in sports because heart problems and things like that run in the family. They both wanted us in there so that we wouldn't end up like he was.
Is that one of the reasons you've stayed so involved in athletics?
Yes, that's one of the reasons that I and both of my younger brothers are involved in sports. We like staying healthy and active. I think it also helps with my schoolwork, going home right after practice and doing my homework. It just helps me manage my time and get things done.
Did your mother, JoAnne, become more involved in your athletic career once your father passed away?
Definitely. Before, sometimes she would take us and sometimes my dad would take us. Now, she has to take us all the time. She loves watching us. She works a lot, so it's a good way for her to be able to get out of work and come watch us play. She's a lot more involved now.
With regard to soccer, you've been learning to play a new position this season. You were a forward last year, and now you're a center-midfielder. How has that transition been for you?
The transition has been good. The girls and the coaches are very supportive of the fact that I've never played there before. They do a good job of teaching me, and helping me and the other girls who play center-mid figure out where we're supposed to be.
What's been the biggest challenge?
In center-mid, you're playing with another girl, so I think the biggest challenge is trying to balance yourself with the other girl. You can't both be in the same spot. You have to spread out and help each other.
You were named one of the team's captains this year. What kind of responsibilities do you believe come with that?
I and the other captain, Katie Schwarzmann, are responsible for making sure that if the girls have problems, they can come to us. They can feel free to talk to us whenever. We can either keep that confidential or, if they want to say something to the coaches but don't feel comfortable, we can talk to the coaches for them. We're also there to give the team support and help the players come together as one.
Do you think that having gone through what you did with your father helps in that regard?
Definitely. I feel like because I've been through that, if [my teammates] ever have a problem, they know that they can come talk to me whenever they want to. I don't know if I'll ever be able to help them, because even if you've been through it you don't really know what to say to someone, but it helps knowing how they feel. I can be there for support and offer comfort.
Have you ever been in a situation where you've really been able to help someone deal with something traumatic?
Actually, last year a girl in my grade lost her aunt - she had lived with her aunt and uncle. We had a couple classes together, but we really didn't talk that much. Then one day she called and told me that her aunt had passed away from cancer, and she knew that I had lost my dad in seventh grade. It was really touching that she would call and ask me how I dealt with it. It was really nice to know that people are looking up to you and seeking your advice.