“Winning Spirit,” Ensign, July 1998, 69
Jennifer Emmett Jeffers had no way of knowing that the sudden illness which overcame her in November 1990 would end her hopes for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Soccer Team. Yet the struggles of this former Michigan all-state goalie would lead to a greater victory and a new vision of life.
After Jennifer was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in the spring of 1991, her preparations for Olympic tryouts were replaced with hospital stays, illness, and pain. Eventually the disease worsened and she was given 18 months to live. Her one remaining hope was for a matching donor to provide a bone-marrow transplant. Such a donor match was found in her younger sister, Mackenzie Emmett.
Following the successful transplant, Jennifer slowly progressed to full physical activity. Her return to health, however, was not accompanied by her former athletic aspirations. Instead, remembering a promise she had made to herself during her illness, Jennifer focused on helping others. She volunteered as a Big Sister, helped at nursing homes and hospitals, and worked as a counselor in a summer camp for children with cancer. On 21 May 1997, Jennifer was honored as Michigan’s volunteer of the year.
Jennifer’s Olympic participation was not entirely lost to her fight with an illness, however. She was selected to carry the 1996 Olympic torch through part of Michigan, with her husband, Chad, as her escort. In appreciation for Mackenzie’s gift to Jennifer, Chad asked Mackenzie to take his place.
On 9 June 1996, holding hands, Jennifer and Mackenzie began the last segment of travel for the Olympic torch in Michigan. With thousands of spectators lining the way, Jennifer carried the Olympic torch into Detroit’s Hart Plaza. She extended the torch and gave life to the ceremonial fire, all within view of the hospital where, four years prior to the very day, Mackenzie had extended life to Jennifer.
Today Jennifer continues to volunteer in the Big Sister program and works as a hospital respiratory therapist. “I always knew I wanted to be in a field where I could help others,” she says. “My experience with my illness helped me realize more than ever what I wanted to do and what my priorities were.”
Jennifer is second counselor in the Young Women presidency of the Grand Rapids Ward, Grand Rapids Michigan Stake.—Richard Blackmer, Grand Haven, Michigan