Nov. 12, 2009
The closing matches of the Owls' 2009 soccer season allowed senior forward Jessica Ross the opportunity to reexamine the perspective change she underwent during the first semester of her final year at Rice.
While the startling lack of success could have put a damper on the season that completed her eligibility, Ross instead embraced the compassion that overflowed within during a series of visits to terminally ill youngsters hospitalized at the Texas Medical Center.
"It was a good way to figure out that soccer wasn't absolutely everything," Ross said of the Owls' underwhelming 6-10-3 record. "Because soccer was so rough this year we had to focus on other things, like we started going to Texas Children's (Hospital). You had to do other things or it would have totally bogged you down the whole season."
But those visits came to represent so much more than just extracurricular diversions. Ross had been wrestling internally with her own appreciation for the ideal nature of her life, from the respect she garnered from teammates for her work on the pitch to the occupational opportunities that existed for someone with her intellectual might and academic leanings (Ross is an economics major and business minor).
With each visit to Texas Children's Hospital, the selflessness buried deep within Ross began to force its way to the surface. Many of the ill children she shared time with will never gain the physical freedom to play soccer, and that fact weighed heavily on her heart. One patient in particular, Natalia Lopez, had become a team favorite, and the Owls' visits provided Lopez excitement during her battle with leukemia.
That battle was lost before the Owls took the field against Houston in their season finale. Ross and her teammates wore t-shirts to celebrate Lopez's life, and then beat the Cougars to close the year on a high note.
"It put a lot of things in perspective," Ross said of Lopez's passing. "I remember walking around thinking that you can't think a losing season is the worst thing that's ever going to happen to you. These kids battle something I hopefully will never have to experience, and they do it with a smile on their face. Natalia was so strong; every time I went in there she was laughing. She was such an inspiration to everyone who met her.
"It definitely gave us a good perspective on life. We just realized that our battles are definitely not the hardest things that can happen to us."
The impact of those Texas Children's Hospital visits has caused Ross to ponder her calling. She will handle evaluation consulting in transaction services for PricewaterhouseCoopers following graduation, but she will also participate on a Christian mission sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes during spring break. Slowly her definition of success has changed in lockstep with her maturation, and Ross is anxious to share her religious beliefs with those who might be seeking spirituality.
It's time she wants to lend, and she can think of no better resource to share. Ross' desire to help others has taken a central role in her future.
"This is the way I'm being led right now," Ross said. "If God tells me I need to go somewhere, it's as simple as that.
"My whole life has been dedicated to soccer, and then all of a sudden I open my eyes and see all these people who haven't had that chance. I've taken things for granted so much, so being able to go on these mission trips or Texas Children's ... it's amazing how much of an impact it has."
By selflessly dedicating herself for the benefit of others, Jessica Ross has proven that she will be one of Tomorrow's Leaders.