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Saint Leo's Johnson uses athletics to persevere

By Greg Johnson
NCAA.org

Jasmine Johnson took a circuitous route to Saint Leo after leaving the University of Florida’s soccer program during her sophomore year.

She worked different jobs near her Tampa home and played club soccer in the summer. After three years, the then 23-year-old decided that Saint Leo was the place for her. She helped the Lions capture their first Sunshine State Conference title this fall. “It was the right time, and the right place,” she said.

Johnson, now a 26-year-old senior, had always planned to go back and earn a psychology degree, but first she had to become academically eligible.

“I am the oldest of four children,” she said. “I want to be an example for them. It was tough getting used to going back to school at first, but I want to be a college coach some day.”

After becoming eligible, all seemed right in Johnson’s world until she started feeling fatigued and experiencing headaches in the fall of 2009. A trip to the doctor revealed leukemia.

It was a scary time, made worse because her grandmother died from the disease. Also, cancer had recently claimed the life of a close friend.

“The first thought was this isn’t really how things are supposed to be for me,” said Johnson, who is scheduled to graduate in May. “After an hour with some tears with my roommates and teammates, I started thinking about what I had to do.”

She was placed on an oral medication, and she has continued playing and going to school ever since. The doctors have had to alter her treatment at times, but no one needs to alter her optimistic attitude.

“For me, the best medicine is laughter,” Johnson said. “I keep it light for everyone else, because other people worry about it more than I do.”

She is further convinced that Saint  Leo is the right fit for her since the father of one of her assistant coach’s friends is linked with the company that makes her medication.

“That helped me get on a patient assistance program,” Johnson said. “The medication was $4,000 a month. Had I not been playing soccer and going to school at Saint Leo, I wouldn’t have gotten this help. It is a bizarre story, but I was meant to be here.”