WESTBROOK – Kate Jorgenson stood a couple steps behind the three-point line and she was ready when the basketball came to her. She took aim at the basket, fired quickly and the ball hit nothing but net as fans of the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers cheered. It was a remarkable shot by a remarkable athlete.
I first wrote about Kate when she was a ninth-grader on her school’s golf team. She’s now a 16-year-old junior, and the fact that her left arm was amputated above the elbow after an ATV accident in 2013 has never slowed her down.
“She’s just like any other teenager,” Chargers coach Adam Kletscher said before Westbrook-Walnut Grove dropped a 45-42 decision to the Adrian Dragons in a Red Rock Conference game Tuesday night. “She likes to joke around, she likes to have fun.”
Tuesday was a long day for Kate. She was awake at 4:45 a.m. and on a school bus bound for the state Capitol in St. Paul – three hours away from her home in southwest Minnesota -- by 6:15 with other American Government students who are involved in a program called “We the People.” They toured the Capitol, made a We the People presentation to a panel of judges as part of the program’s competitive process, then headed back home in the afternoon.
Kate played the first half of that evening’s B squad game and came off the bench throughout the varsity game. “I’m tired,” she said with a smile afterwards.
Her parents, Nikki and Jim, watched the games from the stands. Nikki teaches fifth grade in the district and Jim runs the family farm two miles outside of Westbrook. They, like everyone else, love their daughter’s positive attitude and are amazed by what she continues to accomplish.
“The only thing she gave up was playing the violin,” Jim said, adding that Kate continues to practice the piano and perform at recitals. She plays volleyball in the fall, golfs in the spring, is a lifeguard and certified swimming instructor.
When she came off the bench in Tuesday’s varsity game for the first time, four minutes in, she wiped the soles of both shoes with her right hand and went to work. On defense she was positioned in the lane, displaying quick footwork in the Chargers’ zone, blocking out would-be rebounders and inbounding the ball after Adrian scored.
She brought the ball upcourt at one point, passing to point guard Grace Woelber once she reached the center line.
Imagine trying to catch the ball, shoot the ball or rebound the ball with one hand. It’s not an easy proposition.
Asked if he does anything differently in coaching a player who doesn’t have two hands, Kletscher said, “Right away I wondered, I debated but then I said no. She doesn’t want to be treated any differently. She’s a normal teenage girl on my basketball team. You might talk with her about how to curl a rebound or things like that. I’ll tell her, ‘Keep your arm straight up’ (to avoid fouls) and you’re doing the same things for every other girl on the team, too.”
Kate said, “It’s really hard for me to catch the ball in the post and go for a layup, so I usually try to stay on the outside and shoot my outside shot. I can just like feel it when I let it go. I’ve spent a lot of time catching the ball and releasing it.”
In Kate’s first basketball season after the accident, Jim coached her sixth-grade team. At one of the first practices he asked for volunteers to dribble the ball upcourt. Everyone was quiet until Kate said, “I’ll do it.” That was an early example of her fearlessness.
In the wake of Kate’s accident, people in Westbrook, Walnut Grove and surrounding communities rallied around her and her family. A 2014 benefit concert in Westbrook was a great success, which inspired the Jorgenson family to create the Keeping Up The Kourage Foundation. The foundation awards college scholarships to youth from the area who have faced medial challenges and also assists families with medical expenses.
Kate headed home Tuesday night looking forward to some much-needed sleep. But the next day – like most days -- would be another busy one, starting when she drove 43 miles to Marshall early in the morning. She’s interested in becoming an anesthesiologist, and she had an appointment to job-shadow someone in that profession, beginning at 7 a.m.Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn