Seminole soccer player Jenny Garcia

When you sit down and talk to Seminole soccer player Jenny Garcia nothing is more striking than the senior's maturity. The starting center midfielder is excelling in her final season on the field due to that maturity. She has a list of academic accolades that rivals almost any student-athlete in the nation due to the maturity she has displayed in balancing academics and athletics. And in her summer off, she spent six weeks working with autistic children at the Miami Children's Hospital Dan Marino Center. It is impossible not to recognize the maturity that epitomizes every aspect of her life.

Garcia has been on the Dean's List every semester since she enrolled at FSU and has posted a perfect GPA of 4.0 on two occasions. She is a member of the Golden Key, Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Eta Sigma Honor Societies on top of being a three-time ACC Academic Honor Roll selection. Her life has always centered on academics before anything and everything else.

"Ever since I was younger, my parents emphasized school over everything including soccer," said Garcia. "It was instilled in me to do well in school. I always had to have my homework done before I was allowed to go to soccer practice. It has carried over into college. It is hard to manage my time but I enjoy it. I guess I am a nerd but I like school. I enjoy learning. Learning new things is fun for me."

While her parents may have instilled in her the importance of academics over athletics, Garcia doesn't put one in front of the other. She believes success in athletics is as valuable as success in the classroom, which makes sense for her since she has been able to achieve both.

"I don't value success in the classroom over success on the field or vice-a-versa," she said. "One does affect the other though. If I don't play well, it makes it hard for me to do what I need to do in school. The same goes when I don't live up to my expectations in the classroom."

Garcia is a communications disorders major and has always wanted to work with children. She thinks that stems back to her positive experiences working with kids at soccer camps throughout her life. She came upon the field of speech therapy thanks to her mom surfing the web.

"I guess being around them (kids) brings out the kid in me but I didn't really discover speech therapy until my senior year in high school," said Garcia. "My mom had read about speech therapy on the Internet and told me about it. The more I looked into it the more I realized it was something I wanted to do. I made the decision to pursue it as a career once I got to FSU."

One of the requirements for a degree in communication disorders is practical experience in the field. Last summer, while spending the summer at home in Miramar, FL, Garcia decided to see if she could fulfill that requirement by working at the Miami Children's Hospital Dan Marino Center. She called looking to get some hours and to see if she could help out. She ended up working at the hospital for six weeks.

"I called the Dan Marino Center and they offered me a position at the summer camp," said Garcia. "I expected to just volunteer but working there on an everyday basis was great.

"When I first started it was very difficult. After the first week, I didn't even think I wanted to work there any more. The kids would get very frustrated with themselves and become very angry and physical. They were really strong. I had to try to control them but it was hard. I got kicked in the head, punched and bitten and I just didn't know how to alleviate the problem."

As time wore on Garcia learned to deal with the kids and also came to terms with their disorder. She began to find enjoyment in every little success and that was so rewarding to her.

"I had never been around autistic children and I was in shock. It was gut wrenching to see how hard it was for them to do the simplest tasks," said Garcia. "They had very few skills. It was frustrating because they would retreat into their own little world sometimes and there was just no way to get them back.

"I had no idea what to do but the more I worked at it I started to form bonds with the kids. I saw them make strides during the week and that was so encouraging."

The senior used her athletic background as a way to reach the children. She played soccer with the kids as a form of physical therapy. She also played baseball with them and in a relatively short span of time, she saw her patience pay off.

"I used my soccer background and incorporated that into their physical therapy," said Garcia. "To see them start to talk more or learn to hit a baseball was amazing. By the third week, they were accomplishing tasks they were never able to do just a few weeks before. It was so rewarding to see them get excited by it. They were happy and that meant so much to me."

Garcia is in the midst of applying to grad schools, as she will continue to move towards her goal of becoming a speech therapist. Since Florida State offers such a degree, it seemed things would work out perfectly. Garcia, who redshirted her freshman year, could play one more year of the sport she loves while she move forward on the path toward her next step in life. But the maturity that Garcia has exhibited in the classroom and in her work with autistic children helped her make one of the most difficult decisions of her athletic career.

Entering the 2002 season, Garcia decide to give up her redshirt and end her Seminole career with a year of eligibility remaining. After securing a starting spot for the first time since she came to FSU and wearing the captain's armband, the midfielder decided not to return for her final season.

"I would love to play in 2003 but it has to do with my health," said Garcia. "I don't think my body can handle it. I know I could stay and play but the older I get the more I realize I am going to have to live with my body for the next 50 years and that worries me. I want to be able to walk when I am 30 and with the current state of my knees, I don't know if that will be the case."

Garcia's knee problems started her junior year of high school when she was at regionals with her club team. She hyper extended the knee and eventually had an MRI. Doctors told her the knee just needed some rest, which she did. Going into her senior season of high school soccer, Garcia once again had pain and she eventually went back to the doctor.

"I found out I tore the meniscus in my right knee after the second MRI," remembers Garcia. "I had surgery and went through the healing process and was ready by the time the high school season began. I was back on the field in four weeks. It did hurt but I played through it because I thought that was normal pain."

The pain wasn't normal and it got worse. Although she tried to play through it, she knew that her knee hurt so much that it could not be just normal pain due to the previous surgery. This time she went to a different doctor, Dr. Kanell (former FSU quarterback Danny Kanell's father), and the news was not good.

"He (Dr. Kanell) found that I had more of my meniscus torn and that I had damaged the cartilage beneath my bone," said Garcia. "I had shredded that cartilage and the bone from the constant playing. I had arthroscopic surgery but the problem was waiting for the cartilage to regenerate. That could take up to six months or more. I had to stay completely off it. I had already signed to play at FSU and I was pretty upset. I knew I had to redshirt because I couldn't even run until December. It was very disheartening."

Garcia followed doctor's orders and stayed off the knee until December. It was the longest she had been away from soccer but she knew it would be worth it once the cartilage regenerated. Once it did she returned to the field only to face more bad news.

"As soon as I had healed and was ready to play, I had to go through the same process again on my other knee when doctors discovered the same problem," said Garcia. "The left knee wasn't as severe but it kept me out of the spring again. I lost a full year of playing or even being active. There were times I thought I would never make it back."

After a lot of hard work and endurance she has made it back and she is playing the best soccer of her career. But it isn't without a price. Her knees have never been the same and the swelling and pain is still there after every practice, workout and game.

"I still have pain and discomfort. There is still a lot of swelling," said Garcia. "I play through it for the most part. I tell myself ‘It's my last year. I just gotta do it'. The pain made me realize last spring that this would have to be my last season. I played half the season last year and the more I played the more I felt my body and knees couldn't take it anymore.

"I never want to have any regrets but I made what I believe is the best decision for my body in the long run. As much as I want to play another year I have to keep telling myself that this is the best decision for me. As recently as last fall I was sure I'd play the 2003 season. Maybe it is a maturing process, I don't know. As much as I love the game, as much as I want to play I just can't."

As difficult as the decision was, Garcia has come to terms with her choice. She is comfortable walking away from the game she loves, a Top 25 team and a starting job. Her career will end playing the best soccer on the team according to head coach Patrick Baker. The fourth-year head coach believes there is no player on the 17th-ranked Seminoles who has played as consistently well as Garcia has in 2002.

"Jenny Garcia has been playing tremendous soccer this year from start to finish," said Baker. "I told her that a lot of stuff she does will never be reflected in a box score but what she means to our team, you could not put a price tag on. She is a special player."

"You can't be upset with that. As a player, you want to know that you are playing well," said a somewhat embarrassed Garcia. "To hear from other people that you played hard, or did a good job is a great thing to hear. You always want to play your best soccer, which isn't always easy."

While she may be a little uncomfortable hearing her play described in such glowing terms by her coach, she doesn't take for granted how hard she worked to get to where she is today. She has come from not knowing if she would ever step on the field again to starting for one of the top teams in the nation.

"I am proud of myself to see how far I have come and where I have come from to start this year. It makes me happy," said Garcia. "At one point I wasn't getting many minutes as a sophomore. Now I start and I am a team captain. That was exciting. You can't ask for a better way to finish your career. On a personal level I made some big strides."

Despite the journey and eventual success, Garcia's maturity has helped her come to terms with ending her career in just a few short months. She knows she is not defined by the sport she loves.

"Soccer is just one part of my life and I have come to grips with the fact that it has to end one day and I have to move on," said Garcia. "There are other things that are going to be just as fun and rewarding as my time on the field. It's just another step in my life."

Knowing that she had just one season left in her Seminole soccer career, Garcia came into 2002 with some specific goals when it came to her captain duties. She played in 20 games during her first season after the injury and she witnessed first-hand what made that 2000 squad so special. It wasn't the talent that drove that squad to its first-ever NCAA Tournament and the school's only trip to the Sweet 16. Garcia credits the success to work ethic and that was something she didn't see as much in 2001.

"I think (co-captain) Amber (Tollefson) and I have made it a priority to raise the team's work ethic," said Garcia. "After last year, it felt completely different from 2000. The emphasis of everything that year was hard work. Every practice and every game we gave 200% effort. We never gave less than that. That is what drove our success in 2000. I think that slipped away somewhat in 2001.

"We didn't work as hard last year. We had the success due to our talent but we needed to work harder. Both Amber and I wanted to bring that back because we knew what a difference that made. We thought about how much we could accomplish with the talent we have now and the work ethic we had in 2000. We try to emphasize that everyday."

Raising the work ethic of the 2002 team isn't the only role Garcia is hoping to play as a captain. She is trying to pass on some of her maturity to her younger teammates. It is one of her best attributes and would be a great legacy for the senior to leave behind.

"I want to try to make sure everything is in order and I want to be there to help my teammates," said Garcia. "I want to make sure they are making the right decisions and the right choices on and off the field. I will be there for them if they need me and I want them to know that. When all is said and done though, captain is just a title and I don't matter any more than anyone else on that field."

She may not be more important than anyone else on a soccer field but she is destined to be important in the lives of many others.


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