Nimitz senior Jesse Landry has played a key role for her team this season, not held down by opponents or her handicap.
Nimitz senior Jesse Landry was born with congenital amputation, but also with the determination to succeed in basketball and life.
By most accounts, senior Jesse Landry’s life is that of a typical high school athlete.
She demonstrated superior hand-eye coordination by learning to tie her shoes at an early age. She played competitive sports as a child — everything from volleyball to softball to tennis. She recently passed her driving test and has taken her place as a key player on the Nimitz girls basketball team.
But what Landry, her family and her coaches see as ordinary, others find extraordinary.
Landry, 17, was born with congenital amputation. The condition, which impacts one in every 3,800 children, according to the Amputation Coalition of America, caused Landry to be born with a right arm that stops at the elbow.
Although she lacks one of the key tools most basketball players have, Landry, 5-5, has become one of the best guards on the Nimitz squad.
“I guess I have just never looked at myself as handicapped,” Landry said. “I like to play basketball, so I learned to play, and I work hard at it, just like with anything else. I don’t look like everyone on the court, but I don’t always think that is a bad thing.”
Jesse was adopted by Ron and Anne Landry when she was just 2 days old. Anne said the family that was originally going to adopt Jesse backed out. Anne was called that morning. The adoption was processed over the next 24 hours, and Ron and Anne took Jesse home.
The Landrys, both of whom work for an adoption agency, have 15 children, 12 of whom are adopted. Their children range from 14 to 44.
When Jesse joined the family, she was the youngest girl and had six older brothers. They helped her find her niche in basketball.
“I started playing basketball when I was about 3,” she said. “I started to really like it a few years later, and my brothers would work with me. They didn’t go easy on me. They knew I had to work harder than everyone else.”
So she did. Jesse adjusted her approach to the game’s fundamentals to fit her body. She learned to shoot with one arm — her left — then started to add in her right for support. She learned to use her shoulders to aim passes and shots. She worked on her speed and agility, knowing that being fast could make up for not having the length to defend on the perimeter.
In addition to working on basketball, Jesse learned to play other sports. In softball, she played outfield and would catch the ball, stick her glove under her arm to remove it, then throw.
“It was tough, but I got pretty quick at that,” said Jesse, who excelled in tennis, soccer and volleyball.
Anne said she and her husband let Jesse try anything, even piano lessons, when she was young.
“She was always so determined,” Anne said. “You couldn’t tell her that she couldn’t do anything.”
Nimitz coach Debbie Jackson caught her first glimpse of Jesse when she was playing for the Teague Middle School eighth-grade team. One of the officials didn’t show up for a game, so Jackson was asked to step in.
“Jesse was playing, and I noticed that she was pretty good right away,” Jackson said. “I didn’t notice she was missing a hand until about five minutes into the game. She just moves so well and plays so well that you just don’t notice.”
Other coaches have. Early in the season, when Jesse would enter a game, defenders would back off.
“They thought I wouldn’t be any good because of my arm,” she said.
The Nimitz players on the bench would giggle and wait for it — an open shot, a made 3-pointer and a lot of surprised opponents.
“She is an instant offensive spark for us,” Jackson said. “She shoots really well, and she is so fast, so she gets our offense moving.”
She averages about seven points and three assists per game this season off the bench. With 13 steals, she also is one of the best defenders for the 11-11 Cougars.
Jesse’s family enjoys sitting in the stands and watching her baffle people with her talent on the court.
“People are finally realizing they shouldn’t underestimate her,” Anne said.
Anne said people have doubted Jesse since she was young.
Once during a co-ed church league basketball game, Jesse entered the game, and a woman behind Anne said, “We don’t have a chance. We have two girls in the game, and one doesn’t even have a hand.”
Notes Anne: “Jesse played really well that game. I never said a word. But I enjoyed watching her prove that woman wrong. And she is always proving people wrong. She doesn’t have a handicap or a problem, and she doesn’t want to be looked at like she does.”
Will to carry on
It happens off the court, too. Recently in a restaurant, a waitress asked Jesse if she needed help cutting her steak. She politely told the woman she could do it.
“I guess it happens to her more than we know, but it is strange to hear,” Anne said. “Jesse has been able to do everything for herself for a long time. We don’t even think about it.”
Jesse hasn’t had to, either. She has never had any health problems. Her parents attempted to get her a prosthetic limb when she was young, but she refused.
“I have never had an arm, so I don’t feel like I am missing one,” she said. “This is just how God made me.”
Her community has accepted that. She actively volunteers with an adoption agency and at her church, makes good grades and plans to go to school to become a nurse practitioner.
“No one in her life looks at her as the girl missing a hand or treats her differently,” Anne said. “She is just Jesse.”
By JENNY DIAL
Copyright 2011 Houston Chronicle