For Cheshire High School senior Jordan DeMatteo, playing sports has taught her lessons that span far beyond winning and losing. In picking up soccer and basketball at age 6 or 7, her kneecaps shifted out of alignment on multiple occasions, but instead of giving up when she fell to the ground, DeMatteo kept getting back up and trained even harder.
“I was so competitive growing up and felt that sports made me happy,” reflected DeMatteo. “I usually played through the pain, but my knees kept shifting out of place.”
DeMatteo had a successful surgery performed on her left knee, but despite having a pair of procedures done on her right kneecap, she felt pain for almost every competition. Finally, in her freshman year at CHS, her right knee gave out and she couldn’t stand on it.
After three surgeries in an eight-year span, DeMatteo felt that her athletic career had reached its end, but during an unforgettable visit to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center two years ago, her family was given the pleasant news that she could potentially compete again. The source of her pain had been misdiagnosed twice, and after going through tests with the Division of Elite Sports Medicine, doctors found that the trochlear groove at the end of her thigh bone was flat when it is supposed to hold the kneecap together.
To correct the abnormality that DeMatteo had since birth, James Lee Pace, M.D., suggested she have a trochleoplasty by which he would alter the shape of her thigh bone to align with her kneecap.
Additionally, since DeMatteo’s dislocations had taken out the supportive ligaments in her kneecap, Pace would use a donated tendon in its place and also extend the length of ligaments outside her kneecap.
“I felt awful going to the doctor because I thought that I wouldn’t play sports again, but I was so happy to hear that it could be fixed,” stated DeMatteo. “The doctors reassured me that I could do everything I used to do.”
DeMatteo chose to give up soccer, but after her undergoing her fourth surgery, she has gone on to shine in basketball and track and field at CHS.
“The doctors did a great job, because I’m fine now,” said DeMatteo. “They made my life completely different.”
Last fall, she learned that her story would be featured in a CCMC piece online. For the Grow Competitive series, Jordan’s Story ran back in March of this year.
“I was shocked when they emailed my mom about five or six months ago. I thought, ‘Why choose me for this thing?’” recalled DeMatteo. “Last year, I received so many supportive comments from people who saw my picture on the website.”
The project made her reflect on the support of her parents, and younger sister Lizzie, who plays soccer and basketball at CHS.
“Their encouragement means everything,” said DeMatteo. “My parents were always driving me to practice and games when I was younger. Having my sister compete with me was great, too.”
As a sophomore, DeMatteo was happy to finish her basketball season healthy. With free time in the spring, she decided to pick up track. Along with sprinting for the Rams, she decided to try hurdling for the first time.
“At first, it was hard. (Graduated co-captain) Riley Pettit basically taught me how to do it,” stated DeMatteo. “It is a crazy feeling to run and jump over the hurdles.”
In one of her favorite sports moments, she placed third in the 300-meter hurdles (50.77) in the 2019 Southern Connecticut Conference East Sectional. The finish was made more special by the fact that she had fallen during the 100-meter race.
“I didn’t expect to place that well,” stated DeMatteo, who qualified for the Class L Championship as a sophomore. “That experience taught me to keep pushing myself in everything that I do. You need to stay positive.”
While proud of her individual accomplishments, DeMatteo most enjoys the moments she has shared with teammates. In the last three seasons, she contributed to CHS girls’ basketball, competing in the post-season.
“As a freshman, being injured wasn’t where I wanted to start my career, but it was great playing with the girls,” stated DeMatteo.
This year, DeMatteo co-captained the Rams with fellow seniors Hailey Beling, Kaylee Clark, Sophie Vagts, and Ella Watson. In playing amidst the pandemic, the girls were asked to adjust to safety protocols such as wearing masks during practices and games.
“It was hard at first, but we were happy just to be playing,” stated DeMatteo.
Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 last year, DeMatteo wasn’t able to run track in the spring, but she is excited to get to participate this year. She is captaining the Cheshire girls’ team with classmates Cate Bedard and Kristen Daddi.
“I was so happy when (Head) Coach (Barbara) Hedden called to tell me that I would be a captain. Kristen and Cate are really fun girls,” reflected DeMatteo. “Cate runs distance and Kristen does middle distance. I work in the sprints, so it works out perfectly that we can help a lot of people.”
DeMatteo is trying to serve as a role model for girls picking up track and field like she did two years ago.
“I want to teach the underclassmen how to do hurdles and be the best they can be,” stated DeMatteo.
Next year, she hasn’t decided if she will join the club track and field team at the University of Rhode Island, but if her running career ends in high school, DeMatteo said that she is happy to have exceeded her expectations in a new sport.
She hopes that her story inspires other young athletes to overcome challenges.
“I would tell someone to keep working hard and to not stop believing in yourself. You can do it,” said DeMatteo.