All Heart: West High Senior Jordan Amelon Can’t be Slowed by Heart Defect
By Susan Harman
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Jordan Amelon turned blue just 10 hours after she was born. Her parents were told she needed heart surgery. It was just the first of three major heart procedures she had by the time she was 5.
All these years later it’s still Jordan’s heart that is the trait for which she is best known. But now it has nothing to do with that muscle pumping in her chest and everything to do with her personality and her competitive spirit.
“She loves to compete,” West girls golf coach Mary Goodfellow said.
“I’ve never had a kid practice like she practices. She is out there constantly. She wants to be good so bad. She loves the game; she loves to practice. She’s out there in the rain. Every single night I have to tell her to go home.”
She is that 1950’s-sports-novel combination of the nicest kid you’ve ever met who still wants to whip you the second you tee it up.
“She’s just one of the best kids I’ve ever been around. I’m hoping she goes into coaching one day,” Goodfellow said. “She’d be so good.”
Jordan has begun her fourth and final season as a varsity golfer for West. She has a chance to return to the state high school golf tournament for an unprecedented fourth time.
She was all-district as a sophomore. As a junior she was third in the MVC Super meet and 16th at state. She was a second-team all-state selection by the Iowa Golf Coaches Association.
“We’ve had such a strong team the last three years, and this year it’s all her,” Goodfellow said. “So, it’s kind of fun to see her in the role of a leader. She’s so far ahead of anybody.
“She really wants to make it to state. It would be the first time ever somebody from West High made it four years in a row.”
Her journey to this point in what may seem an unlikely athletic career has been full of challenges. She was born with a heart defect, a single ventricle.
“As you exercise the heart just can’t keep up because it’s trying to do on one squeeze what is a two-squeeze process,” Jordan’s mother Chris Amelon explained.
Surgery was performed shortly after she was born and a temporary tube was inserted.
She had open-heart surgery when she was a year and a half, and then at age 5 she had the last of the three-part procedure.
“They unhook one pathway and sort of make a new road to make the system work,” Chris Amelon said. “(Patients) always have a reduced cardiovascular endurance because it’s just one pump instead of two.”
Jordan doesn’t remember any particular distress before the final surgery, but did have some rather bizarre nightmares shortly thereafter.
“Every storybook character in every book we ever read started coming out,” Chris said.
“They were all evil now,” Jordan said. “One was ‘Give a Moose a Muffin,’ and the moose was evil.”
She recovered from the surgery and the possessed cartoon characters. When she was school age she was steered away from the most vigorous aerobic activities like soccer and basketball.
But this was a child who was in love with sports and who tagged after mom and dad to Hawkeye games at age 5. She needed an outlet for all that energy and enthusiasm.
“My grandparent lived out in the country, and they played golf and were members at Kalona,” Jordan said. “I had little tiny clubs and played in the back yard and really had fun doing that.”
T-Ball, golf and eventually some tennis helped.
“Tennis is kind of my mom’s thing, and she got me into it,” Jordan said.
Last year she actually played both golf and tennis at West, although golf was her primary sport when there were conflicts. She’s also out for softball this summer.
In the meantime Jordan’s heart condition is tested and monitored at regular intervals. She is progressing well and has been urged to remain active within limits.
She isn’t a fan of distance running but can do some easy jogging with regular breaks. She does strength training with her peers but with less weight and more repetition.
Because of her condition the IGHSAU has granted Jordan a waiver for use of a cart while playing golf.
“But she won’t,” Goodfellow said. “She’s stubborn. She does not want to feel different or have other kids think that she has an advantage. The (other) kids don’t think anything of it.”
“The only time I use a cart is when we’re on a super hilly course like when we’re in Dubuque,” Jordan said.
Jordan’s activity level may actually set new boundaries for patients with her condition.
“She just loves sports,” Goodfellow said. “We can talk basketball. We can talk football. We can talk Hawkeye sports. I’ve never had a kid like that, and I’m like that.”
Jordan has taken what’s been given her and channeled it into golf and the other sports in which she dabbles. She will play golf for St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., next fall.
“I think of my heart as a blessing; it brought me to golf,” she said. “I love playing sports and those are the sports I can play. I want to continue to play for as long as I can.”
Golf is a sport that frustrates even the best of players. Goodfellow described Jordan as a perfectionist in a sport in which players are regularly required to recover from disasters. A snap hook into water can provoke even a mild-mannered soul into unleashing a stream of invective.
And yet Jordan’s life experience has given her a more worldly perspective. To devote yourself to conquering golf requires patience, perseverance and pluck.
But most of all, heart.