EMU student overcomes chronic nerve disorder to play on national netball team
In just four years, 20-year-old Jordan Keen has gone from being wheelchair bound to representing the U.S. in the world netball games.
Keen is a student at Eastern Michigan University studying sports management and nonprofit administration. She works part time as a youth sports supervisor at the Ann Arbor YMCA, and that's where she was introduced to netball, a popular women's sport in more than 70 countries and soon to be an Olympic sport.
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
"There are seven girls on each side of the court and only certain areas you can go in," Keen explained. "Moves and passes are different than in basketball. You can't dribble the ball. You have to pass it."
Keen's favorite sport to play was basketball, but her quest to play in high school and beyond ended soon after the family moved to Dexter nine years ago. She was very athletic, and during the family's first winter in Michigan, having moved from Florida, she was thrilled to learn how to ski. But when she fell and sprained her knee while skiing, her body reacted in an unusual way.
"I was in excruciating pain," said Keen. "I had to be home-schooled and was in a wheelchair. It hurt to hold a pencil. Tying my shoes was really difficult."
It took more than a year-and-a-half of medical tests before Keen was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a chronic nerve disorder. She was treated with nerve blockers which helped a little bit, but her hands, feet and legs were swollen and it also affected her internal organs.
"I would not be where I am today without my community," said Keen. She's referring to a fundraiser that raised more than $20,000, and gave her family the money for surgery that allowed her to get a spinal chord stimulator implanted.
"It let me control my pain with the click of a button," said Keen. "It was amazing. It gave me a new lease on life."
She was 17 and a senior in high school when she got the implant, but her doctors told her no when she asked to play basketball because they said that an injury could cause the RSD to return. Keen returned to the basketball court as a coach at the YMCA, but she still missed playing. One day she saw a poster advertising netball, and because it is considered a no-contact sport, she got the green light to try it. She was a natural.
"I play on a club team with an awesome group of girls, and one of my teammates, Laura Adams, and I made the U.S. team that will play at the World University Games in South Africa in July," Keen said.
"Jordan plays 110 percent and is so positive all the time, even in stressful situations," Adams said. "I was completely shocked when she told me about her illness. She overcame it and became part of a national team."
"Jordan has a lot of years of play and sports to make up for," said her dad Doug Keen, who is apprehensive about her playing netball. "That is how this all started. It would have been understandable for her to sit back and take a 'woe is me' attitude, but she has a drive to be, to serve, and to do!"
Doug Keen adds that Jordan has spoken to hundreds of people about her experience and also developed a website to help others with similar chronic pain as well as starting a peer-to-peer chronic pain group.
"Everybody in Dexter knows me as the sick kid who got better," said Jordan Keen. "In Ann Arbor, they know me as the team USA girl. Netball was a big part of me getting better. I'm doing so well."