Photo Contributed by: Keneika Jensen
-Updated on June 19, 2020-
Life is full of unexpected surprises and nobody knows that better than CSU Bakersfield senior and defender of the women’s soccer team, Keneika Jensen.
Jensen was born in east St. Louis, Illinois and lived there until her family moved to Boise, Idaho when she was eight years old. She grew up wanting to be a doctor, usually being the one bandaging up her friends and other children when they got hurt playing games.
She didn’t play many sports at a young age because her family could not afford it at the time. Until she was in second grade and was convinced by a friend and her father to participate in their soccer practice for fun.
“Her dad was like ‘Just go play they need a practice player.’ and honestly, I went out there and I honestly kicked butt so that got the ball rolling,” Jensen said.
She quickly took up many other sports like volleyball, basketball, track, and cross-country, but found that the challenges that soccer provided made her favor it over the other four sports she took part in. With those challenges came a new goal, to play four years of college soccer at a large university.
Leaning towards schools like Gonzaga University, Utah Valley University, and University of Utah until she was convinced by an old goalkeeper coach to come visit CSUB before making a final decision. Jensen quickly formed a positive relationship with the coaching staff but it was her meeting with the team that really sold her on coming to CSUB.
“When I had my official visit and when I met the girls, I was sold. They were amazing. It just felt like home right away,” Jensen said.
Her freshman season at CSUB showed lots of promise as she started at the defender position in 16 of a total 19 games and was a key contributor in the team setting a new defensive standard by resetting the schools Division 1 record for shutouts.
But the season would not end without its own surprises, as Jensen learned while at the WAC tournament that she was pregnant with, now soon to be three-year-old, twin boys.
“What’s crazy is that I honestly thought that I was never going to play soccer again. I have heard of that happening and people don’t come back from that,” Jensen said.
During her pregnancy, Jensen decided to take a year off from CSUB and go back to Boise for family help and to be with her husband, Makade Jensen. While home Jensen held two jobs, one as a certified nursing assistant and also a babysitter/nanny for a family, while her husband was attending Boise State University studying engineering and working at UPS at night. But the lack of training was becoming stressful for Jensen, and the fear that her goal that she worked so hard for slipping away weighed on her mind.
“It was just brutal. I couldn’t play soccer, I was away from the friends that I just made, I’m not even going to school anymore,” Jensen said.
After having her sons Jaren and Easton in 2017, Jensen decided to return to CSUB in the 2018 season and in her first year back things looked promising as she was able to make 7 starts in her 17 total games played that year. With her junior season on the horizon, she was looking to make an even bigger impact, but fate had another challenge that it wanted to send her way.
During the first day of physical exams in the 2019 preseason, Jensen was experiencing an unusual amount of pain and cramping causing her to underperform.
“I was cramping extremely bad and I finished somewhere in the middle. And then we have two more practices that day and during both practices I was in so much pain,” Jensen said. “And ya know, obviously you can’t show it because you don’t want you coaches thinking you’re being a baby.”
After pushing through the following two practices Jensen returned home and the cramps continued. And once she spoke with her husband about it, Jensen went to the hospital for tests and was sent home and told that what she was experiencing was gastritis and nothing to be alarmed about.
She had a previously scheduled appointment with her primary physician the next day. After telling her physician what happened the previous day, they decided to do some blood tests to be sure. And It wasn’t long before Jensen got the news about her condition.
“On my way home, she called me and was like ‘Hey Keneika, you are going to have a heart attack. Your troponin is super elevated, get to the hospital.’”
Upon getting the news, she rushed to the hospital and was admitted immediately, and within two days, Jensen’s condition changed dramatically.
“They diagnosed me with pulmonary hypertension, which is a rare disease, or well its pretty rare,” Jensen said. “And basically, after diagnosis you have like 2 years to live.”
The next semester continued down this troubling road. Countless doctor’s appointments and an oxygen prescription followed the diagnosis, but Jensen always held out for some hope that she would be able to train again and rejoin the team for her third season.
“What’s crazy is that I got diagnosed with [pulmonary hypertension] and then they would be like ‘Well things are looking better.’ So I was like ‘okay I’ll train again.’ So I would start training and everything would decline really fast,” Jensen said.
With her health and family in mind, Jensen decided that she would not return in 2020 for another season of competition, and instead intends to graduate at the end of the Summer with her bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology.
Jensen says that since the diagnosis and decision to step away from training, her condition has improved. Her heart has returned to normal size, the fluid in her lungs has disappeared completely, and so has her initial two years to live timeframe.
With her health now in a good place and her graduation on the horizon, Jensen is hopeful of a bright future for her and her family. And although she was unable to play four full years like she hoped, Jensen still managed to leave CSUB with a lifetime of memories.
She plans to take a few years off from school after she graduates until her husband completes his master’s degree in engineering at UCLA. Then she will decide which school to attend in order to continue her education in Kinesiology in her pursuit to become a Physician’s Assistant or a Nurse Practitioner with a focus in strength and conditioning.