Not just Jeri: Professor’s optimism fuels extensive career, inspires CMU offensive lineman
Students don’t find much to complain about with Jeri Reid, or “just Jeri,” as she tells her students to call her the first day of class.
“I prefer to be called Jeri because I think it allows (students) to come to a little different level in the classroom, to be more comfortable with me,” she said. “When you’re on a first name basis, it takes down some of your barriers.”
She’s a professor, a lecturer on the psychology of sports, a marketing consultant at golf courses, an author, a poet, a former elementary school teacher, a tournament tennis player and an LPGA Golf Professional.
Thirty years ago, her goal was to make a living by playing golf. She was already playing tournament tennis and was ready to qualify for the LPGA Tour.
It all changed one Sunday afternoon on the way to a golf course with her friend, Judy.
A car traveling 100 mph blindsided the two while they were crossing an intersection. Their car rolled three times, hit a telephone pole and landed upside down in the middle of a field.
“It was probably the worst feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” Reid said. “It wasn’t my fault, but I just felt, ‘Why didn’t I see the car?’ It made me think differently.”
Both women sustained injuries. Judy was put into intensive care for three weeks and had reconstructive facial surgery.
While the crash ended Reid's chances of making the LPGA Tour, it did not take her out of golf entirely.
“I was ready to qualify, but it took me out of golf for two years,” she said. “I knew with my hip, there was no way I could make a living at that time with professional golf, so I decided to get into the teaching division and then when I was healthy, qualify for different events.”
A second hurdle to overcome
Eight years ago, she faced a more daunting hurdle when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When they called me in to tell me it was breast cancer, I didn’t panic, I didn’t get scared,” Reid said. “I just knew it was going to be something I could get past."
Just like everything else in life, Reid said she took the positive aspects from the situation.
The diagnosis made her think of all the things on her bucket list she hadn’t accomplished.
Randi Fatzinger, Reid's golf caddy when she was in the LPGA, said her story and her optimism have been inspiring.
“She has been hit and knocked down so many times and then she just has the drive and determination to just come back and overcome it all," Fatzinger said. “She’s re-invented her golf swing, her tennis game, everything.”
Through the process, Reid had 18 surgeries. Like the car accident, she believes breast cancer was a wakeup call.
Chemotherapy and radiation were options for Reid, but with her being so sensitive to medicines, it would have likely done more harm than good.
“I believe in the power of prayer and I believe in the power of my friends that support me in my decisions,” she said. “That’s a hard one because some friends kept saying to me, ‘Jeri, you need to do the chemo.’ I knew it would kill me."
Jeri had a mastectomy in an effort to remove the cancer and still maintained her positive mindset throughout the process, a lesson she emphasizes to students facing any struggle.
“My surgeon said they were the most developed pectoral muscles she’s ever cut through and she felt so bad,” Reid said. “When they removed the tubes and the ports, I had a 10-pound weight I started exercising with, because I wanted to get better quickly.
To her, living a quality life is more important than how much longer she has to live.
That’s why worrying about dying seems useless to Reid.
“I think your attitude has a huge effect on cancer,” she said. “If (my cancer) returns, it returns and I deal with it. If it doesn’t return, then I’m going to enjoy this day and do as much as I can. I guess I’ve never been afraid of death.”
Her impact on students
She continues to go through MRI’s and blood tests, but she remains optimistic, which seems to reflect on others – including her students.
Reid has been a professor at CMU for six years. One of her most memorable stories as a teacher came last semester from former football offensive lineman, Jake Olson.
Olson was a grayshirt, redshirt and medical redshirt until he finally became healthy enough to play in his senior season during his seventh year at CMU. He was predicted to be one of the best lineman in the Mid-American Conference and had a shot at making the NFL next year, according to Jeff Seidel a Detroit Free Press reporter.
Olson was due for some good luck after suffering several injuries. However, in CMU’s second game of the season against New Hampshire, he suffered a broken wrist that sidelined him for the season.
At the time, the Wisconsin senior happened to be in Reid’s tennis class and the two talked before Olson had surgery on his wrist.
“She talked to me a lot about how it’s just your mindset,” Olson said. “You have to be very positive in everything. I found a way to do things that I couldn’t do when my hand was in (a) cast. She said to be positive in everything and the healing will happen faster and you will have a better outlook in life.”
Olson came to class three days after his surgery. Reid said he could sit and watch, but he said "no, I can do this."
He didn’t just sit around and sulk in her class. His left hand was still in working order.
To serve, Olson held the ball and the racket, tossed the ball and swung all with his left hand.
“When he started playing left-handed with the toss and the serve, I thought, wow, he’s creative,” Reid said. “He’s taking something that was a horrible, psychological blow to him and he’s continuing on in his life.”
With a last chance to pique the interest of NFL scouts at CMU's Pro Day, Olson thought back to Reid's advice to keep pushing forward.
Olson did just that in impressive fashion.
“She just helps you to think that you can keep pushing forward,” he said.”It’s going to get better, there will always be bumps moving forward.”
It’s interactions like these that define Reid.
Even after his last chance, Olson continued on and began to reinvent himself in many of the same ways his tennis professor did.
“My life challenges, they motivate me,” Reid said. “When I see young people like Jacob in the class, the football player, that inspires me. And who knows, maybe he’s going to be in another profession or go in a different direction that’s going to be even more rewarding for him.”
Senior Reporter Seth Newman contributed to this report.