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The Return of the Fearless Striker

Barlow's Jenna Young traveled a long path to play a sport she loves

THE OUTLOOK: JOSH KULLA - Barlow Highs Jenna Young overcame four knee surgeries to take the field for her senior season with the Bruins.

Madey Topaum played the ball ahead, expertly near the sideline and away from the defense, allowing teammate Jenna Young a free run unchallenged. She took a quick scan of the field, used her left foot to tap the ball into the center and twisted her defender around in the process. That left her a perfect view of the goal from about 30 yards out. She fired. The ball looped over the top of the goalie's outstretched arm and fell into the back of the net.

“I heard my teammates scream 'fire, fire,' and I noticed the other defenders were far enough away that I had a shot,” Jenna said. “My hands went straight into the air when I scored, and it felt like it was raining joy. I kept telling myself 'You finally did it, you finally did it.'”

Some friends in the bleachers caught the moment on their cell phones and it is now posted to Jenna's twitter account. She admits to watching it over and over again in the weeks since.

For the Bruins' senior it was a goal that was a long time coming.

• Young grew up playing soccer with the Eastside Timbers — being on the soccer field was a natural fit.

But she would soon find out what life without soccer was like.

During the summer leading into her eighth grade year, she was doing passing drills during warm-ups when her right foot stuck in the grass and her knee twisted. Her anterior cruciate ligament snapped basically in half. Doctors took a part of her hamstring to make the necessary repair, and she was back in action with her club the following summer.

Another twist, this time on the other knee, during a summer game sent her back to the doctor's office.

She showed up in a wheelchair for her first day at Barlow High School.

“I was coming in from Damascus Middle School, so there were a lot of new faces and I could feel people staring at me as I'm wheeling myself down the hallway,” Jenna said. “All these people trying to figure out what happened to me.”

The curiousity wore off, friendships were established and soon classmates were arguing for the right to push Jenna to class.

After an extensive rehab process, Young arrived on the practice field to start her sophomore year.

She made the varsity cut – up front – a striker.

Twenty minutes into her first game, Young was chasing a bouncing ball into the attacking zone. As she approached, a defender crashed in from behind.

“She came up to challenge, and her knee went into the side of my leg,” Jenna said. “I knew it wasn't right. My leg went weak right away and it hurt really bad.”

THE OUTLOOK: DAVID BALL - Barlow senior striker Jenna Young has notched two goals through the preseason schedule.

The family assumed they were in for another ACL repair, but when Jenna continued to complain about a different, more intense pain, they discovered a broken leg. A bone graft had been used in the previous ACL repair on the left leg, holding the knee together during the collision. But the force sheered off the top of the fibula and tibula bones just below the joint.

Jenna was trapped in crutches and a boot for the remainder of the season.

But while the bone had healed, Jenna continued to feel excruciating pain in her knee. She was taking Tylenol every day and it hurt simply to walk. A closer look showed that the bone break sheered off all of the cartliage in her knee.

Each movement, each step, resulted in bone-on-bone contact.

Doctors strongly encouraged her to take up sports where collisions were rare — swimming, tennis, surfing, running.

None of those appealed to Jenna.

“Soccer is that one thing that has always been rooted in my soul, and I can't let it go,” Jenna said.

The family explored options and learned about a potential cartilage transplant from Dr. Dennis Crawford — Director of Sports Medicine at OHSU.

“Cartilage repair is a very young science, and we are only beginning to learn about it,” Dr. Crawford said. “It's like rust. If you chip it and break it, you expose the bone and when that happens it hurts.”

He describes the cartilage in the knee as about 3-5 millimeters thick and 'a thousand times smoother than ice.'

The transplant called for a piece of cartilage, about the size of a quarter, to be inserted into her knee. A fourth surgery and even more challenging recovery process ahead. That started with six weeks on bed rest, which Jenna spent binge watching Grey's Anatomy and taking on all challengers at Wii tennis. It also meant six hours a day on a perpetual motion machine that kept her left knee trapped in what mimicked a slow-motion bicycle ride.

Perhaps the most difficult phase of recovery came when her junior season rolled around and all she could do was watch from the sideline.

“It broke my heart watching my friends play the sport that I love,” Jenna said. “I wanted to be out there with them.”

This past summer, with the recovery complete, Jenna was sitting at home considering her options for senior year when a text from an old friend arrived. Topaum was inviting her soccer friends to a casual kick-around session at the high school field.

“At first I looked at it as a chance to hang out with my friends, but then Madey brought this big bag of balls to the the field, and I started juggling. I felt like I was back,” Jenna said.

“She doesn't give up — she's tenacious,” her mother Alissa said. “She loves the sport, and she can be very stubborn. But she's been like a completely different kid since she got back out there.”

THE OUTLOOK: JOSH KULLA - Young serves with the Emilio Hoffman foundation, remembering her late friend out of Reynolds High by placing his intitials and jersey number on the bottom of her cleats.

About a month later, she watched her coaches do a double take when she showed up for the first day of soccer practice. But just like the juggling, Jenna found her groove in a hurry and earned an attacking spot among the Bruins' strikers.

“I'm not going to play after high school, so I wanted to make the most of it and be out here doing what I love most with the girls I've played with since I was 8 years old,” Jenna said.

Although she admits to feeling like she was playing 'in a bubble' in her first game back, Jenna has quickly regained the physical style that makes her a force in the Bruins' front line.

“She likes to bang with the defenders — she's not afraid of the them. She goes 100 miles an hour and there are going to be collisions,” Hubert said. “When she goes in it gives us a different dynamic with some amazing runs directly at the goal.”

Though the first week of league play, Jenna has brought her goal total up to match her number of knee surgeries — four.

The Bruins (9-0-1) are unbeaten, ranked No. 7 in the state and a contender for the Mount Hood Conference crown.

Hubert gives each player basic instructions before sending them to the center line to sub into the game.

Jenna hears the same message each time.

“When other kids go in, they hear 'Don't get a foul, don't get a yellow' — for me it's 'Don't get yourself hurt,'” Jenna said. “Coach doesn't want me to push it too far doing something silly, but he trusts me to play smart and know when I can go hard after the ball.”

When she finishes at Barlow, Jenna hopes to attend college probably somewhere on the East Coast and pursue a career in the medical field.

“I want to take care of people when they are at their lowest point, because I know that feeling,” Jenna said.

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Here's a link to that first goal...