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New York state of mind

By Gary Brown

Jackie Jamaleddine says her life wouldn’t be normal without chaos.

“It’s practice, work, school, go home, change, go back, school, work, sports, people mad at me, apologizing. It’s the story of my life,” she says in thick New York poetic meter. “I constantly have a coach texting me saying you owe me this, you didn’t do that, you didn’t do this, you didn’t do blah blah blah. My life is so chaotic that it’s normal for me to have all of this going on.”

The “all of this” is a full course load at College of Staten Island, two majors (education and dramatic arts), four sports (cross country, swimming, tennis and track), two part-time jobs and a family life with more twists and turns than a New York cab in rush hour.

The second of five children from an Irish mother to whom she was close and a Lebanese father who has been in and out of her life, Jamaleddine (pronounced Jam-ALL-a-deen) has every reasonnot to be where she is today. After being an honors student in grade school and involved in dozens of activities, an unstable home life in Staten Island drove Jamaleddine to split when she was 16. Suddenly high school graduation was but a mirage.

“I was a punk,” Jamaleddine says. But she got it together when the mother she respected finally realized her daughter wasn’t the model child she remembered.

“She always thought I was that honors student from fifth grade,” Jamaleddine says. “But one day she came to a school meeting and found out that I was screwing up. She cried; she couldn’t believe what she heard.”

Wanting to make reparations, Jamaleddine considered the GED route but decided that wasn’t enough. Having been an honors student earlier, she said, “No way. All right, I’ll wake up now.”

Sports was part of the awakening. She joined the track team, despite ominous odds.

“I think that coach really saved my life, even though as a teacher he failed me twice. I cursed him out – he suspended me and tried to get me expelled and then accepted me on his track team. This was a school of 5,000 kids, and he cared enough to give me a chance,” Jamaleddine says.

Attending nearly 12 hours of school a day during her junior and senior years, Jamaleddine earned her diploma, but her troubles were only beginning. Two weeks before graduation, her mother, who was in the hospital recovering from swine flu, developed a blood clot and died suddenly. Six weeks later, her mother’s brother, who had served as a father figure for Jamaleddine and her siblings, was murdered in Florida.

Distraught, Jamaleddine abandoned thoughts of college. But once again, she dug deep.

“In my case, you’re either a low life or you go to work and school,” she says. “And I chose to do sports on top of that. Maybe I’m a little loony for doing so many, but I have fun.”

Distance running is her therapy, but she’s a pretty good freestyler in the pool, too. Tennis is a more recent acquisition, but she made the spring trip to Florida this year at No. 5 singles. She’s thinking about basketball next year.

She helps pay the bills at home. She gets financial aid for school, as do her two brothers. One sister graduates high school in June and the other is completing eighth grade. Her father is back, though not employed full time.

As for the longer term, Jamaleddine wants to teach in order to give others the second chances she’s been given.

“Because I lost my mom and my uncle so young and the way it happened, I just hope that everything I do gets me somewhere,” she says. “I mean I’m always thinking of them. They’re the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think of when I go to bed.

“I just keep doing what I did my whole life – a lot of things. I didn’t change who I was, because I don’t think they would have wanted it that way, and I know I wouldn’t have wanted it that way.”


About Jackie Jamaleddine

Sports: Cross country, swimming, tennis and track.

School: Staten Island.

Class: First-semester junior.

Majors: Education and dramatic arts.

Athletics accomplishments: Finished 35th of 73 runners at the 2011 City University of New York Athletic Conference cross country championships; has posted several top-five finishes in freestyle and backstroke events; played No. 5 singles in tennis this spring.

What you didn’t know: Jamaleddine was one of about 250 runners to complete the 37-mile New York City Ultra Marathon in December 2010. She also completed the Spartan Challenge, a 10-kilometer endurance event that mixes running with more than a dozen high-intensity obstacle courses. Jamaleddine came in first among women and fourth overall.