Jessica Valley knows adversity.
She tore the same ACL twice in back-to-back years of playing college basketball, but a trip to Africa between those injuries gave her real perspective.
“You should just be grateful for what you have in life,” she said. “And if opportunity presents itself, you should definitely take it.”
It’s that mentality that has brought Valley – a senior guard for Western Washington – back to the game.
The Vikings (2-0) play their home opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Azusa Pacific at the Whatcom Community College Pavilion.
After graduating high school as a basketball star, Valley, a Lafayette, Ind., native, played for Indiana State. She tore her ACL during the season and began the long healing process.
That summer, a high school teacher offered her a chance to mentor girls in a student group traveling to Cameroon, a nation in west-central Africa.
There, students would work on a water project, providing pumps designed with PVC piping to sustain villagers near the town of Douala with easily accessible water.
The world Valley glimpsed in Africa was far different than the one she knew back home.
“That was definitely an eye-opening experience,” she said. “It just makes you appreciate life and what we have here in the U.S.”
The people she met, she said, were open and welcoming. They used water fetched in buckets from wells for their plants and animals more than for drinking or personal hygiene, preferring to drink tea instead of straight water.
After the trip, Valley played her sophomore season at Indiana State, where she again was hurt. She said the second injury caused her to assess what she wanted, and she transferred to Nova Southeastern in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Before starting at Nova, Valley again visited Africa, this time Tanzania.
Valley said she noticed people there were happy with their simple, more rudimentary lifestyle, allowing her to put the often-complex nature of U.S. life in perspective.
“I look at it as ‘You’re as happy as what you want to be,’ ” she said. “I think your attitude controls who you are, and that’s what I really took away from it. You can control what you can control, and that’s your attitude and effort. And that’s how I got back to playing basketball. It’s your attitude that controls your happiness.”
Valley sat out her first season at Nova, but returned to the court the next season. During her time at Nova, Valley also visited India for a project focusing on using water as a hydraulic-fluid substitute for oil.
After graduating with a degree in recreation and sports management, Valley moved to Utah and worked several jobs, including at the Utah Olympic Park built for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
After a while, Valley realized she missed basketball. She emailed longtime Western Washington coach Carmen Dolfo, who happened to be looking for someone like Valley. Although Dolfo doesn’t take many single-year transfer players, the coach said she was impressed by Valley’s ability and game intelligence.
Valley packed her bags and moved to Bellingham.
“She’s a leader,” Dolfo said. “She’s very smart on the court; I think she’s a great passer and makes things happen, and she wants to win.”
Valley said coming back to basketball was tough because she was out of shape, but now that the season has started she’s having fun with her teammates and coaches in her final year of eligibility.
She’s pursuing a master’s degree for adult and higher education, and said she’d like to work in a university setting, working at a recreation center, in student affairs or in academic advising.
Through the ups and downs of her athletic career, Valley has remained grateful.
“Control your attitude and effort,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to live life when you’re happy and optimistic than (when you’re) negative.”
2016-17 WWU women’s basketball roster
2016-17 WWU women’s basketball schedule
UC San Diego
Notre Dame de Namur
Angelo State (at Las Vegas)
E. New Mexcio (at Las Vegas)
at Northwest Nazarene*
at Central Washington*
at Simon Fraser*
at Western Oregon*
at Seattle Pacific*
at Saint Martin’s*
at Montana State-Billings*
NOTE: Home games played at Whatcom Community College Pavilion