CASHION — Jayci Robison knows life without basketball will come soon enough. She saw no reason to rush.
So, even though she was only a fraction of her former athletic self, even though she had fainted during games — and even though she had to undergo heart surgery last September — Robison wanted to play her senior season at Cashion.
“I couldn't do it,” said her father, Jason Robison, with a level of honesty that would be shared by most people. “She's a lot stronger than I am.”
Jayci has Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS. It's a condition that causes a decreased blood flow, lightheadedness, fainting, rapid heart rate, fatigue, disorientation, muscle weakness and several other symptoms — none of which are conducive to being a successful basketball player.
But Jayci wasn't going to let that stop her. Jayci's career might end as early as Friday night, but not because of any medical hindrance.
Cashion faces Pioneer at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Hennessey, in a win-or-go-home Class 2A district playoff game. A win will keep them around at least until next weekend, but a state tournament run will be tough to pull off for the unranked Wildcats.
In junior high and early in her high school years, Jayci had sights set on some day playing college basketball. And she looked the part. She earned a starting job as a freshman at Cashion.
A couple months after her sophomore season, while playing in a summer league game, she passed out for the first time. It was brushed off as dehydration.
But the symptoms worsened. Admitted to the emergency room with a racing heartbeat, she was told she was having a panic attack.
“But I knew it was something worse,” she said. “It took 4½ months to get a diagnosis, because it's kind of a rare disease.”
The condition isn't life-threatening, and most teenagers diagnosed with POTS see the vast majority of symptoms reduce as they get into their mid-20s. Only in rare cases do the symptoms persist for life.
Medically, many of the treatments for POTS are experimental, and there's no known cure, other than time. At one point last year, Jayci was taking 17 different medications.
Jayci once asked her teammates if she should quit — not because she wanted to, but because she didn't want her condition to be a burden on the team. They wanted her there, and she wanted to be there.
During her junior year, she was required to wear a heart monitor at all times, so she had to find a way to keep it strapped to her chest while she played. This season, she was told she couldn't wear it during games.
“It's a safety hazard, apparently,” Jayci said with an ironic laugh.
At her best, the 5-foot-6 point guard is about 50 percent of the athlete she once was. Many nights, she can only play about 5-10 minutes, though she has lasted more than 20 in a few games. She still gets so wrapped up in games that she might not see the warning signs coming on. She passed out late in a game last Saturday against Hennessey, pushing herself as the Wildcats tried to come from behind for a win.
This year has been a learning experience for coach Kelli Jennings, too. This is her first season at Cashion, so she was ultra-cautious with Jayci at first, though she has become more comfortable with the situation as she has learned about it.
“It was scary,” Jennings said. “More than being a basketball coach, I care about her health. After they told me it wasn't life-threatening, it calmed the nerves a little, but you don't want to put her and her family through those situations.
“But watching her strength has been inspiring in every way. Whether she's having a good day or a bad day, she is giving everything she has. She is without question the leader of our team.”
Jayci will finish her career with more than 900 points and 700 rebounds. But statistics weren't what pushed her.
Jayci has encountered others with POTS who can hardly get out of bed, much less play basketball.
“I think it's important to give them hope, too,” she said. “I try to always say, don't let your circumstances define you. Every day when I wake up, I feel like throwing up or passing out, but it's important to get up and keep going. I care about my teammates, and I felt it was my job as a leader to do as much as I could.
“And I've been able to use this as my platform. Anyone who ever asks me, ‘How do you do it?' I'm able to tell them I'm able to do this because of the strength God's given me.”