Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

June 3, 2012

Leading the pack

Willis overcomes health issues to become one of two first-time All-Staters for Keys.

Opposing midfielders, goalkeepers or defenders were never her primary concern.

Living was.

For Jalyn Willis, having a healthy heart has always been priority No. 1.

“Everything in my heart is structurally fine,” Willis said, “but it just shorts out and beats too fast and doesn’t know how to slow down. My heart rate is usually about 60 (beats per minute) and it’ll jump to 220.”

Willis had supraventricular tachycardia, which is a rhythm disorder in the upper chambers of the heart. And like most others, Willis was diagnosed with the condition during her teenage years.

That’s when the surgeries started.

“I had ablation for my SVT,” Willis said of the procedure, which helps correct rhythm problems in the heart. “It was my fourth one.”

Willis discovered her condition when she was 14 and about to enter her freshman year at Keys High School. That didn’t keep her from playing soccer.

“I played my freshman, sophomore and junior year pretty solid,” Willis said. “My junior year was the only year I was ever able to play without any problems, because my second heart surgery worked.”

Immediately following her junior campaign, the same problem arose and it was back to the operating room.

Two more surgeries later, Willis was primed to return for her senior season. But it was a long comeback trail.

“I actually had my surgery April 9, which was the start of districts,” Willis recalled. “I’m just now getting to where I can do everything.”

During limited action her senior year, Willis scored one goal and helped the Lady Cougars to a 6-4 season. That one goal — coupled with 19 others during her varsity career — aided her in landing a spot in this year’s Class 4A All-State game. Willis, along with teammate, Ashtin Dudley, will represent Keys on the East team on Thursday at Stillwater High School.

“Since I had surgery and didn’t play a whole lot this year, I really wasn’t expecting anything,” Willis said. “I just put my paper in, just because, as a senior. And then, I was astounded — like, shocked.”

Willis and Dudley aren’t just All-State soccer selections from Keys. They are, in fact, the first-ever soccer players to earn All-State honors at Keys.

“I’m just excited to have our first-ever All-Staters here,” said Keys coach Jackie Willis, Jalyn’s dad. “...They’re the ones I started with, so I’m excited for them.”

Jackie Willis established the Keys soccer program four years ago and the only player with any extended soccer background was Jalyn.

“Jalyn was the only one that had played really when we started,” Jackie Willis said. “We got an eighth-grade team into a (recreational) league, and then as a freshman team, we went to the board (of education) and got it approved and added it. And it’s grown from there.”

As Jalyn’s dad, Jackie Willis said he couldn’t be more pleased to see his daughter pick up a honor that she fought so hard for over the past four years.

“With the four heart surgeries in the past three years — plus, having a gallbladder surgery in there, also — it’s amazing what she’s overcome,” he said. “I’m very proud of what she has become.”

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