Every Student Succeeding: Jacqueline Rodriguez

Jacqueline has known the stares and whispers her entire life. She was born with lymphatic malformations, a rare condition that formed large masses in her cheeks, tongue, and chest. She underwent multiple surgeries to remove the diseased lymph nodes, but to no avail. Her parents were told she might not life to see her 1st birthday. Jacqueline defied the doctors’ expectations. She is enrolled in regular classes, despite being non-verbal, and communicates through her iPad. Undeterred by her physical limitations, Jacqueline set her sights on athletics and thanks to the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative and #BAWSIRollers, an adaptive sports program that helps young girls with disabilities play sports, she followed her dream. When she enrolled at Del Mar High School in Campbell Union High School District as a freshman, she was determined to join the tennis team. Her future plans include attending Stanford University and majoring in nursing, but for now, she’s perfectly content being a normal teenager with a killer backhand.


Oct. 24, 2017

Student with rare medical condition finds normalcy through tennis

Too often, high school students obsess about how they look. Body image can become all-consuming. And yet, somehow, Del Mar High and Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) junior Jacqueline Rodriguez does not care what you think.

“When we go out in the community now, she holds her head up so high,” Jacqueline’s mom Evelyn Belen said. “She’s just so good about feeling just like anybody else. And not worried too much about her image.”

Jacqueline has known the stares and whispers her entire life. She was born with lymphatic malformations, a rare condition that formed large masses in her cheeks, tongue, and chest. She underwent multiple surgeries to remove the diseased lymph nodes, but to no avail.

“The doctors told me that with her condition, she might not live to see her first birthday,” Belen said. “My whole attention or concentration was just to keep her alive and keep her safe. When she was born, I just wanted to treat her like a little porcelain doll and not worry her. Not hurt her. Just wanted to protect her.”

Jacqueline defied the doctors’ expectations. She is enrolled in regular classes. And despite the fact that Jacqueline is non-verbal, she found ways to communicate through her iPad.

“I learned really early on that she didn’t really want to be treated different,” Del Mar High teacher Anna Lucas said. “She didn’t really need to be treated different because she was trying as much as she could to be a part of that class.”

Jacqueline also faced physical obstacles due to mobility issues. But she still set her sights on athletics. Thanks to Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative (BAWSI) Rollers, an adaptive sports program that helps young girls with disabilities to play sports, Jacqueline had new-found confidence. When she enrolled at Del Mar High as a freshman, she made it her mission to join the tennis team.

“She came up to me out of the blue one day and said, ‘I want to be on the tennis team,’” Del Mar High tennis coach Tom Heckley said. “And my first reaction was ‘Heck yeah. We’ll find a way to make this work.’”

Belen was overjoyed at Heckley’s willingness to embrace her daughter. She also watched as Jacqueline’s confidence continued to soar.

“I was thrilled that my daughter was actually going to be able to participate in a team sport,” Belen said. “And participate in an after school extra curricular activity. It’s something that she’s wanted to do for a long time but had never really had the actual opportunity. I’m grateful that Tom was willing to allow her on the tennis team.”

Jacqueline has plans of attending Stanford University and majoring in nursing. But for now, she’s perfectly content being a normal teenager and continuing to achieve her goals.

“It feels good to be able to show people that you can overcome any obstacles that you may have in your life,” Jacqueline said through her iPad.

As for her Belen, she says she sees her daughter as a role model for the entire community, including herself.

“What happened when she was little is just so far her history,” Belen said. “And she’s grown and has been an overachiever in my mind. Being able to do the things she does is just amazing. I’m just in awe in watching her grow.”

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