“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.
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