Kalena Johnson: The Definition of Tenacity


“Kalena is awesome. Actually the perfect word to describe her is tenacious. She is one of the fiercest competitors I have ever met – which is something you can’t teach or coach someone. She brings a desire to win and succeed to everything she does- whether it be running, practice, or a game.”

When I was first asked to interview Kalena Johnson, the only thing I knew about her was that she played for Tenacity’s Bay Area 2021 Blue team and that she had alopecia, a condition that results in hair loss but leaves Kalena otherwise healthy and fit.  I imagined Kalena would hate that—someone defining her by a medical condition rather than who she is—so I asked her coach to tell me a little bit about her and then, of course, I had the chance to ask Kalena about herself.  Her hopes and dreams.  Her memories.  At Tenacity, our players are unique and strong.  Every single girl brings something new to the table, whether it’s mental toughness learned when people stare or courage learned in a fight against cancer, whether it’s a drive to change the world through art or engineering.  So what does Kalena bring?  Turns out a whole lot.  Here’s what her coach, Rachael Martinez, had to say about her:

“Kalena is awesome. Actually the perfect word to describe her is tenacious. She is one of the fiercest competitors I have ever met – which is something you can’t teach or coach someone. She brings a desire to win and succeed to everything she does- whether it be running, practice, or a game. I think her intensity raises the level of play of those around her and she does an amazing job of challenging herself and her teammates. Besides that she has an awesome work ethic and positive attitude. She simply loves to play and always wants to be out on the field.”

And here’s what Kalena had to say about herself:


How did you start playing lacrosse?  And more particularly, how did you become involved with Tenacity?

I first started playing for Pleasanton Pride because it looked really fun. Some of my friends had played Tenacity and we heard good things about the club and I wanted to try it out.


img_7220I understand from your coaches that you’ve been dealing with alopecia.  Will you explain what exactly alopecia is and how it affects you?

Alopecia is  a type of hair loss when your immune system attacks your hair follicles. Alopecia was hard to overcome when I first was diagnosed because my parents and I didn’t know why all my hair was falling out.  Sometimes, it can bother me when other people stare at me, but I’m very grateful that I’m healthy and able to do whatever I want.


Do you think it’s impacted the way you approach life?  Has your attitude about anything changed as a result?

I don’t think it’s changed the way I approach life. Sometimes people underestimate me because I look different.  This just makes me want to work even harder to prove them wrong and do better for myself.


Back to lacrosse.  Any favorite lax memories, on or off the field?

During a Tenacity game in Palm Springs, I had a game winning shot. The game was tied and I drove in for a shot and the refs called shooting space. There was only a little time left and I knew I had to get the ball in the back of the net to win. I lined up on the middle hash on the 8 meter and I set the ball on the ground, centered myself, and picked it up, and set up in my starting position. The whistle blew and I sprinted at the goal. I could hear the footsteps of the girls behind me and the huffs behind their mouthguards. One girl jumped in front of me and I heard a whistle. It was shooting space again. I repeated my same process as before and lined up when I was ready. This time, I had the extra push to go harder and score and I could feel the rush of energy in my body. I flung the ball towards the back of the net and it bounced under the goalkeeper’s legs and hit the netting in the back of the cage.


How do you get yourself pumped up for a game?

Before games, l get pumped up with my teammates by saying our goals.  We are excited and focused. I also go over my mental training to compose myself before the game starts.


Have you had to overcome any obstacles in your game?  If so, any advice for other girls dealing with a similar situation?  

In the years I have played lacrosse, I have struggled with a broken wrist and foot. I have also had seavers. It all just depends on your situation. For me, I wanted to rest but still wanted to play. It is always important to keep practicing and going to practices no matter what you are going through so that when you are healed you will be on the same page as the team.


How do you keep yourself mentally in the game when things don’t go your way? How do you bounce back?

I keep myself mentally in the game by not letting the negatives affect me and I keep pushing through regardless of what the circumstances are.  Lacrosse is a team sport, so no matter what the score is we have to communicate and work together.


Any other interests we should know about?  Big dreams for the future?  Favorite subject in school?  If you had to give me a one minute biography, what would you say?

I love food. I have food allergies which limits me, but I love to cook and eat foods from different cultures and different styles of food. Whenever I am not playing sports or at school, I’m hanging out with my friends and family. I also really enjoy science. I have very big hopes for my future, and I am willing to work for them. I want to go to a great D1 school and play lacrosse.  Equally important is that the university have an elite engineering program as I see myself working in an engineering field longer term—my studies are very important to me.  I understand that this requires a lot of hard work, but I’m up for the challenge.



Written By: Courtney Bird
October 6th, 2016



Gaby Navarro: One Tough Cookie

“Tenacity has shown me that no matter if you win or lose, your “family” is always going to be there to support you and cheer you on. This sport has taught me that every position played is important and that we are all doing this together. I can always count on every single player on and off the field.”


Gaby Navarro is one tough cookie.  This summer, she commuted from San Mateo to Atherton mainly by bus and longboard, although sometimes she got rides from other Tenacity families.  Imagine longboarding with your stick and cleats.  Now imagine doing it with all of your goalie equipment and you’ll have an idea of Gaby’s challenge.  But Gaby never really thought of it as a challenge.  To her it was kind of, well, fun.

When I asked Coach Dana Kilsby about Gaby, she said that she’s an “outgoing and hilarious individual who directs her teammates with authority and humor from the goal. Her Peninsula High School team was a family after just a few practices together and she just made it closer.  During the Tahoe tournament she jumped in and helped several other Tenacity teams who were missing a goalie without complaint or hesitation. Each team she joined gave raving reviews of her goalie skills as well as her shining personality.  You would never know from the way she carries herself at practices that there was any hardship happening at home.”

I had a chance to ask Gaby about her love of the game, her commute, and some of the other obstacles she’s faced.  She responded with answers straight from the heart, just as I’d expect from everything I’d heard about her.


How did you start playing lacrosse?  And why goalie?

I started lacrosse after playing softball.  I felt like I needed to do something different, something that would teach me discipline and I wanted a sport that was more aggressive. I noticed my high school had a lacrosse team and I signed right up! During tryouts the coach said, “We are going to have two people tryout for goalie every day, and if no one volunteers, everyone is going to try.”  At first I thought, “I have strong arms, I can probably chuck it across the field.”  So I tried out and blocked every shot my first day!  I felt like it was a good position for me, so I stuck with it!


I understand from your coaches that you put in quite a bit of effort to get to practice.  Will you tell us a little about your commute and how you motivate to go the extra mile everyday?

It was ten miles from school to Tenacity, which was a really big trek, so I would often use the bus and skate the rest of the way—about two miles—but that never stopped me.  I love longboarding!  It’s how I get around and a great hobby I’ve had since I was little.  I didn’t need motivation because I was doing what I love!


Do you think of yourself as pretty independent?  Because I think it takes a confident and independent young woman to make that push rather than relying on parents or siblings or even a carpool to get to practice.

Well, growing up, my life consisted of watching after my mom.  My dad worked and only came home for dinner and sleep.  I was raised being a parent and I am alright with that!  Yes, I would like to think of myself as independent.  It is a wonderful trait to have and it gives me an idea of reality before I face it.


Has that commute ever been an obstacle for you?  Any other obstacles you’ve overcome to get out on the field, or to pursue your other passions?

YES! If I were to miss a bus, my fear was immediately that I’d be late. But that wasn’t the only obstacle.  In the middle of the season, my family was going through a difficult time with unemployment. I had three jobs at the time and felt like lacrosse wasn’t a priority, but after a talk with some of my coaches, they convinced me to stay on the team. I could use lacrosse as an outlet from all the stress.


You mentioned that you have dance, choir and band this fall.  How do you balance all of your commitments?

Choir and band are both classes in my school, and the times of concerts are different, so it works easily. Dance is after school every week day, besides Wednesday, and Friday is our performance. When two or more overlap, I have to make a decision on priorities, as in how important is this upcoming football game? Or how often do I have a concert? Will it be worth it?


Do you see your love of dance and music as working in tandem with lacrosse, or do the those pursuits ever seem at odds with each other?  Some people think of art and sports as in two separate camps, but I’d like to think that they create an interesting dynamic.

I agree with you that all of them create an interesting dynamic, I don’t think any of them are at odds—I see all of them as hobbies and things I am good at.  Things I love.  I will put 110% in for all of them.


On the other hand, what does lacrosse, particularly playing for a club team this summer, bring to your life that isn’t really replicated by anything else?

Tenacity has shown me that no matter if you win or lose, your “family” is always going to be there to support you and cheer you on. This sport has taught me that every position played is important and that we are all doing this together. I can always count on every single player on and off the field.


What’s the biggest challenge of playing goalie?  And how do you deal with it mentally?

The biggest challenge is to keep up the positivity even if we are losing. If we’re down by five points and I’m whacking my stick on the ground after a shot, my negativity will spread on the field.  Me losing hope would psych the whole team out.  If we lose and all I think about is, “If only I would have got that one save,I would be a very depressed goalie!  One tip for all goalies to remember after a goal is that the ball went through eleven people before it got to you.  It is not all your fault.  Lacrosse is not a one person sport, so why blame it on one person?


Any favorite lacrosse memories, on or off the field?  Favorite saves?  

One of my favorite memories is our “spirit weeks.” We had practice every week and every week we had a theme, superhero day to just plain wacky day. Every week I looked forward to something.  And I loved getting on the public bus in a Marine suit and getting stared at 🙂


How do you get yourself pumped up for a game?

A little tradition I do to pump myself up is to remind myself that I am doing this because I love the sport, I love my family I have made on this team, and I will give 110% because I worked hard for this moment, and I am going to do the best I can, and if we lose, I will know I lost giving it my all, instead of losing and knowing I didn’t care or slacked off.

Written By: Courtney Bird
September 15th, 2016



Liz Lofurno: Fighting Back

“…My parents walked over and said that the doctors were really concerned, that it could be cancer and that I would have to get a biopsy.  In the moment,  I was speechless.  I just broke down.  I remember thinking how is it that my scans are so different?  How are my scans so bad?  How do I have all of this inside me and nobody else does?  How is it that anyone else would be completely fine if they got the scans and I’m not fine?

About a year ago, Liz Lofurno was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that develops in the lymphatic system.  I met Liz the day after her diagnosis, when she broke the news to her teammates, and then had a chance to interview her last fall.  I was nervous.  I didn’t really know Liz.  Would she be comfortable talking about the chemotherapy she was undergoing?  About the mental challenges?  Everything was so new.  Well, there was really nothing to worry about.  Liz was relentlessly optimistic and chatty.  She immediately put me at ease, showing me her wig and introducing me to her dog, giving me details about the complex science of her treatment and updating me on her daily routines.  I shouldn’t have been surprised by her openness.  She kept a Caring Bridge blog throughout her treatment, which she updated almost every day for a legion of supporters actively following her progress.

At the time, Liz had just gone through her third round of chemotherapy.  The first cycle was rough—she didn’t remember the first three days because of the drugs—but the doctors were able to adjust her nausea medications for the second cycle and from then on, the treatments went more smoothly.  She had hoped to start playing again this winter, but a blood clot kept her temporarily side-lined.  Instead, she began playing in stages – just passing on the sidelines, then playing with no contact, and then, this summer, she was fully cleared to play.  In the meantime, she’s raised money for the Angel Hair Foundation and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and now she’s on an advisory board for the Children’s Cancer Association, based in Oregon.  I was thrilled to have another chance to talk to Liz, ‘on the record,’ this week—about her diagnosis, her recovery, and how she maintained her positivity.  


Will you talk us through the process of finding out you had cancer and what your reaction was like at the time?

I was diagnosed almost a year ago and at the time I had been playing summer tournaments with my club team.  My energy was kind of lagging, especially during conditioning, but I didn’t feel like anything was wrong.  I just thought I was slow.  And then I also got a weird feeling in my throat but it wasn’t anything major.  I called it my bubbles and it felt like something was coming up but I knew nothing was.  It was just like something catching at my wind pipe.

But I’d been getting these weird night chills and fevers randomly, like once every six months and then once every three months, and then as it got closer to September 2015 I started getting those chills every night—which was the main reason I went to the doctor.  I also had really bad pains in multiple areas on my back and my left femur.  I got a CT scan on September 9, after my mom and I decided to show my doctor a bump on my chest.  At first we thought it was just my collar bone sticking out, but it slowly grew bigger. So that night, after the scan, I was eating a cookie in the kitchen when my mom got this call and left the room and I could hear her say, ‘Well what would you do if it were your kid?’  At this point, I was convincing myself it was nothing, but I also remember thinking, if it’s bad news I’m not going to want to finish this.  So I just decided to take a huge bite of my cookie and swallow the whole thing. So then my mom got off the phone and my parents walked over and said that the doctors were really concerned, that it could be cancer and that I would have to get a biopsy.  In the moment,  I was speechless.  I just broke down.  I remember thinking how is it that my scans are so different?  How are my scans so bad?  How do I have all of this inside me and nobody else does?  How is it that anyone else would be completely fine if they got the scans and I’m not fine?


Right. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason.  What makes you have that cancer inside your body when another girl with the same lifestyle, same age, same height, does not?

I couldn’t believe it.  So that night, I talked to the doctor and she said we should try to go on with our daily routine.  Somehow I slept really well that night, even though I didn’t fall asleep until late.  So then I woke up, and at the point like every fifteen minutes someone in my family would break down.  My dad drove me to school and he was saying, ‘Be prepared today or tomorrow you’re going to have surgery for the biopsy.’  So I got to school and just kept thinking ‘Stay calm.’  I had talked to a few friends the night before and I made sure they would be there when I got there.  I got to school like five minutes before the bell rang, so I didn’t have much time purposefully, because I didn’t want to talk to people.  So I found my friends—nobody knew what to say—and then ten minutes into first period my mom texted me, ‘Spit out your gum, don’t drink anything, don’t eat anything, I’m picking you up and you’re going in for surgery today.’

I was technically an emergency surgery, and that was the first time it was real.  They were thinking it could be a bone cancer and the doctor was showing me it was in my lungs and my lymph nodes, but they needed more scans because they needed to see where else it was.  After all of my scans it was discovered that I had cancer in my lungs, in the bones of multiple areas of my back and femur, in the lymph nodes behind my stomach and in my neck.  When we saw it was stage 4, that was really a kick to the gut.  And then two hours later I went in for surgery.  They figured out it wasn’t a bone cancer, it was stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  They needed to know that before they put the port in the next Tuesday.


How did you feel like your community rallied around you while you were going through your diagnosis and the months of chemo that followed?  

It was overwhelming—in a good way! All the support really helped, especially when friends would just take my mind off things.  Like my neighbor Haley Graham said we’re going to make wristbands and she thought of the #LizStrong slogan, and then my friends thought of a t-shirt.  Designing things was a great distraction.  

My family was so positive.  We found weird, funny moments in everything.  I remember when they put the IV in during my first CT scan, it made my whole body go warm, from my ears down my neck.  I thought that was so cool and we’d laugh about it.  At that point, I kept telling myself that nothing was wrong even though my parents knew something was wrong.  Then I got another CT after I knew it was cancer and it was the same thing.  As awful as it was, we still found moments.  

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You were so mentally tough throughout your treatment.  How much of that came from within you and how much of it came from the support of your community?

Well, it was weird—I’d be writing my Caring Bridge posts and everyone would say, wow, you’re so positive, how do stay like that?  I think it helped them to read the blog and know that I was feeling positive, but it wasn’t intentional.  It came pretty naturally—I was just being myself and I was really positive about it.  My one little thing was that I did not want to throw up, but I think I was pretty mentally strong.  At first, I was really down but my mom helped a lot.  The doctor told us to go see a reproductive specialist and I was really upset about that, and my mom said, ‘If there wasn’t a good chance of you living, we wouldn’t be seeing a reproductive specialist.’  She really started off the positivity.


When Tenacity came to Portland, you couldn’t really play.  How hard was that?

Tenacity made it really easy for me to be a part of the community.  At the meeting in January, I talked to Theresa and told her I was done with treatment but that I couldn’t play because of a blood clot.  And she said that’s okay, you have a spot on the team no matter what.  And that really helped.  And Natalie was extremely supportive.  She came to the hospital during one of my chemos and told me that everyone was there for me.  I knew the coaches and my friends were all there, so even though I was disappointed that I couldn’t play, it was still really fun.  And my teammates were so interested in how I had to inject myself with blood thinners.  There was one time I had a crowd of like ten people watching me—they thought it was so cool.  Even though I couldn’t play, having a team really helped.



You recently went down to Bend with Whales, a team of elite players dedicated to raising money for charity in the name of one player or person.  This year, Whales played for you and raised over $14,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  How was the experience of getting out there with a new team playing for a cause that means so much to you?

Bend was so much fun.  The whole team was able to bond so much even though we didn’t know each other and I just loved playing with them.  Everyone was supportive and there was no pressure at all.  We got to score as many goals as we could and it was for charity – you don’t hear that everyday.  We had one girl on our team who hadn’t even been playing lacrosse for a whole season and we made it our mission to get her to score a goal.  So we’d be really patient with it and wait for good opportunities, and she was really good.  After a few shots that didn’t go in, she made a goal in the last game and we got it on video.  It was just the best moment.  It wasn’t your typical tournament.  We were playing for a cause and that made it so special.  


It’s been a year since you were diagnosed.  What are you most excited about as you begin this next school year?

Staying connected to things!  Even though I had so many people supporting me, it was really hard to stay connected when I was out of school for so long.  I’m excited to be in school and doing everything, rather than taking classes online.  Obviously I’m excited for no more chemo treatments.  And my hair growing back!  



Your hair has changed!

Yeah!  It’s kind of the same color but it has these natural highlights that don’t really look natural.  Like it has these bleached tips and it’s curly now.  I had straight hair before.


Do you feel like your perspective on yourself has changed over the past year?  Have you changed at all as a result of your diagnosis and treatment?

Mainly my perspective on cancer patients has changed.  I would have never imagined myself as a cancer patient.  You see them in ads or fundraising materials and they seem so different and then it happens to you.  Now, I look at those ads and realize they are just normal people who were unlucky.  They’re just like me.  And now I’ve gotten involved with Whales and other fundraisers, and I would have never done stuff like that before.


Are you going to continue to do community service or fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society?  

Yes.  Right now, I’m on the teen advisory board for the Children’s Cancer Association with three other teens who had cancer.  We’re looking at children’s hospitals and trying to figure out ways to make them more teen focused.  Little things, like renting P-13 movies.  We’re also looking at mentorship programs to help kids who are diagnosed and going through treatment.

I’m also the honored teen for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  They have these fundraising campaigns to raise money and they always have a student of the year, a man of the year and a woman of the year—Riley Murphy, my friend who also plays for Tenacity, ran for student of the year last year—and then for all of those campaigns they have honored heroes.  This year, I’m one of the honored heroes.  We’re working with the coordinator and videographer right now to make a short video to inspire people to raise money.  


Was it hard to get back into shape?

It wasn’t too bad.  I’ve been working out since last January, because even with the blood clot I could work out.  Now I think I’m in better shape than I was before, but getting there was really hard.  Like when I was on chemo, my dad and I would try to go on runs.  We’d do a small one mile loop and I kept forgetting I was on chemo, but then my lungs would feel numb.  It was cold and my throat just felt cold.  So working out while on chemo was really, really tough.  It was really hard to imagine getting back in shape, but then I worked with a physical therapist and a trainer and it was fine.


What are your lacrosse goals this year?

I love club lacrosse, but I’m really looking forward to West Linn lacrosse in the spring because I missed our whole season last year.  I’m also looking forward to our tournament in Disney World because I missed that when I was on chemo last fall.  Honestly, I’m not sure if I want to play in college or not—I really need to think about it—but I want to keep getting better and gain more confidence.  I really want to become more confident.


Written By: Courtney Bird
September 10th, 2016