The people in our sport…they surprise you, impress you, inspire you.
Her name is Jessie but she’s called Biesh, short for a long last name that fits her awkwardly. She has lavish green eyes and a smile to match and she is a staple in a small community on the Washington-Canada border.
When she was born, Biesh sported funny looking fingers which were attributed to chubby baby hands. “When I was two an extended family member told my parents that my fingers were not normal and talked them into taking me to the doctor.” She remembers. “That is when they diagnosed me with metachondromatosis.”
Biesh explains, “Basically I have enchondromas on my fingers. An enchondroma is a benign slow-growing tumor of cartilaginous cells. So my doctors have always told me they are in my joints, but you only notice them on my fingers. I've had a lot of x-rays taken and they are all very gray and blurry because the cartilage kind of takes place of my bone. That is why I break bones so easily.”
“When I was young it bothered me that I wasn't ‘normal.’ She remembers. “I would cry about it because kids made fun of me all the time. My friends tell me now that they first noticed in a basketball huddle in the 4th grade and a couple kids went home and told their parents that I had cancer. I think that my first broken finger playing fast pitch softball in the 7th grade was a big changing time for me. It's when I began to be scared about my athletic future. But, at the same time people started to realize that playing with my condition was actually tough and had respect for me.”
The summer going into her freshman year Biesh went to the Volleyball Festival in Reno with the high school girls because they took two teams. “The Varsity coach became pretty interested in 4 of us incoming freshman and we all ended up playing together on JV our freshman year. She saw me as a passer, but I still played outside hitter on JV because that's where they needed me. There was a very talented group of senior girls my sophomore year. There was a really good senior libero, so I was a DS and her back up if anything happened. She got in a car accident on a game day so that was the only game that year that I actually played libero. Practicing with those girls really made me a better player though.”
She worked hard the summer of her junior season to be the starting libero as her coach had been grooming her for that the past two seasons. But a coaching change forced Jessie to see the sport differently. “I had a big attitude with the new coach because she was extremely different from my old coach. I played DS my junior year and the coach didn't even have me serve, so I played 2 rotations in the back row. I seriously became a different person from being so frustrated and after our district game the new coach and I had a big argument which consisted of her yelling at me on the bus while everyone else was in a Jamba Juice. After that moment, I decided that I didn't care what she thought or said but that I was just going to prove to her that I deserve the libero spot.”
The team earned a bid to state and while she played well, the team was swept in two straight matches and went home. That spring, her old coach put together a club team that lit a fire under her again. She wrote a note to her new coach apologizing for her poor attitude. “I also told her that I knew I could earn the libero spot and I just wanted her to give me a chance. She and I were perfectly fine after that. I was the libero and to make sure I didn't get injured that season I bought weight lifting gloves and would also tape my fingers underneath the gloves.”
“But game day came and at team dinner I decided I was going to tape it up and play. So I did. My finger was basically a ball of tape and I took myself out after the 3rd game because we were on fire and I knew the team could finish it off without me needing to stay in. It really meant a lot to me to play in that game.” Biesh says smiling. “We ended up getting 3rd in league and districts and we were on to state. We lost our first match, and won the next 3 games to get 5th place. I was voted the Most Inspirational award and the Captain award.”
Because of her condition, Biesh decided to hang it up as a player. That didn’t last long however. “A couple of months later I knew I couldn't stop playing. My setter and I sent out film to quite a few coaches and a local College coach was extremely interested in us. We ended up committing there and in the first 2 weeks of conditioning and practice I injured my shoulder really bad and 2 weeks later got mono.”
Biesh also was being coached by coaches that were, in her words, so up and down. “The head coach would only swear at us in timeouts and tell us how embarrassing we were.” She says dejectedly. “That was a terrible experience. I finally healed up and played in the final Community College tournament and played well. We tied for 7th but I promised myself I wouldn't go one more year of being ‘coached’ by that terrible lady, so I moved back home.” Biesh is now the JV coach at her former high school, sharing the better coaching experiences she has had along her journey and when watching her in action, hitting all the high notes.
Biesh explains the love of the game and her competitiveness kept her pushing forward against a high tide of pain and adversity. “There was no way I was going to quit. It killed me to watch when I had broken bones, so I would just play as soon as I felt I could. I was extremely close with all of my teammates so they would encourage me and helped me work through all my ups and downs with injuries. It was extremely hard though; every time I got injured I would just cry at home because it was SO frustrating. My parents were the best at encouraging me during those times. Our community here is awesome as well. I had so many people; my basketball coach, teachers, parents, younger girls and more, that always could bring me up when I was down about it.”
“One of the great pieces of advice that really sticks out to me is a conversation I had with my basketball coach. I was having a hard week and told him I didn't understand what was going on with the way I was playing. He told me that everyone has their bad days but that it's still trying your best and pushing through those times that will make you better. He always related basketball to real life and so he went on to say that I will have to do that in my future with school, jobs, family and much more.”
She is realizing how true that advice was. “I have to be extremely careful when I am playing sports or doing anything with my hands because my fingers break so easily. So basically doing everything I love; volleyball, Crossfit, other sports, I feel like I am taking a risk which is really frustrating. They also get very sore, so it affects me when I am using my hands a lot because the next day I will feel like I can barely move my fingers. That can get hard with work, but I just have to stretch out my fingers a lot so they aren't as stiff.
“The day I played libero in our rivalry match with my broken finger is when I came to grips with the fact I can’t change my condition so I will just have to deal with it the best I can. Now I am absolutely not bothered by having this condition. It's something I can't let affect me negatively. I keep learning more about it as well, so that helps with understanding what I need to do in my future to make it the best it can be.”
When you walk into her high school gym, the place where she now is guiding younger players toward their own dreams and goals, there is a color picture on the wall next to football players and other sports illuminati of the school. At the end, the last picture you see is of Biesh; pony tail defying gravity, green eyes hypnotized on an incoming serve, and a pair of large black gloves encasing 10 fingers taped to discomfort.
Above the picture simply says, ‘Biesh.’
The people in our sport…they surprise you, impress you, inspire you.