Less than 7% of all high school athletes make it to the next level and go on to play in college. Jackie Sayasone, a standout soccer player in high school was one of them. Jackie decided to stay local and attend Briar Cliff University, just across the border from her South Sioux City, NE home in Iowa. Jackie was use to finishing drills first and being a top athlete at her high school but something felt different. She struggled to keep up with her college teammates and felt exhausted. Initially thinking that she was just out of shape she hit the gym harder until her doctor delivered the devastating news. A sport like soccer which demands extreme endurance was not in the cards.
Jackie was diagnosed with a severe form of Thalassemia. Thalassemia stems from an inherited genetic mutation believed to provide protection against Malaria. It is most common in populations from what is referred to as the Thalassemia belt which runs from the Mediterranean, across the middle east, through India and into Northeast Thailand and Laos. Depending on the genetic variant and if genes are inherited from both parents the disorder can range from asymptomatic to fatal. Jackie was diagnosed with one of the more severe forms of the disease and physical exertion can lead to oxygen deficiency and potentially organ failure.
Jackie took to athletics at a young age. She was a standout soccer player at South Sioux City High School and went on to play at Soccer play collegiately at Briar Cliff University. After being diagnosed with Thalassemia she had to limit her play time and primarily support the team from the sideline but managed to compete for all four years. A natural athlete she later joined the Briar Cliff tennis team as well.
Jackie had a natural talent for cornhole and a friend convinced her to play at a local tournament. The experience was eye opening. The players had their own bags, threw consistently and sent Jackie packing. Motivated by her defeat she began practicing daily and soon was landing shots in the hole. After a mere 5 months of training and competing in tournaments Jackie landed her first professional contract. She would go on to compete at the world championships, appear on ESPN and land sponsorships.
Jackie is the daughter of Sy and Nang Sayasone who settled in the United States as refugees after a stay in the Ngong Khai refugee camp. She currently resides in Omaha.
About this Article
Information for this article came from interviews with Jackie Sayasone on the SEA4 Podcast. All photos are courtesy of Jackie Sayasone.