Both the Medical University of South Carolina and Duke University want her, but Spartanburg gets to keep Converse College graduate Jesse Pope a while longer.
Pope, a double major in psychology and biology, has already started work at Steadman Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas in Spartanburg. She is working with patients involved in a study for a new kind of physical therapy for knee replacement. A standout swimmer for the Valkyries and a former gymnast, Pope’s experience in athletics piqued her interest in physical therapy. She will help coordinate patients’ treatment and keep tabs on them as they undergo rehabilitation post-surgery.
Pope has been accepted to Duke’s and MUSC’s doctoral programs in physical therapy, but she has decided to defer enrollment for a year.
“I have a big decision coming up,” she says, with a smile.
Pope, of Kennesaw, Ga., comes from a science-minded family. Her older sister is obtaining a doctorate in neuroscience from Georgia State University and is researching chimpanzees. Her mother’s background is in chemical engineering, and her dad is a mechanical engineer.
Graduating from Converse with a 3.96 grade point average, Pope served on the Nisbet Honors Program student board, welcomed new students on campus as an orientation leader, presided over the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society and was vice president for the senior class. She also was a member of Tri Beta Biology Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta and Mortar Board.
As a post-grad, Pope’s competitive swimming days are likely over, and she calls herself a “swammer.” She is the Valkyries’ record holder in the 50-meter freestyle, and achieved NCAA qualification times for the last two years. She also earned Academic All American and All Conference Academic for each of her four years. For her athletic accomplishments, Converse named her both Scholar Athlete of the Year and Iron Valkyrie Strength and Conditioning Athlete of the Year.
Some of her other activities included coaching youth on Converse’s Marlins summer swim team and volunteering outside of school at Miracle Hill Mission and the HALTER program for the handicapped at the S.C. School for the Deaf and the Blind.
In preparation for her career, Pope shadowed physical therapists in two Spartanburg clinics last year, observing therapists treat pediatric patients with Down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy and autism, as well as rehabilitation for a variety of injuries, surgeries and disabilities. Although still deciding her exact career path, Pope said she may choose to focus on women’s health and physical therapy, particularly with women who live in Third World countries. She also enjoyed her experience working with children last year, and may go into pediatric physical therapy.
Because of her depth of character and accomplishments as both student and athlete, Converse President Betsy Fleming presented Pope with the college’s Weisiger Cup during the annual Founder’s Day celebration.
Because of her depth of character and accomplishments as both student and athlete, Converse President Betsy Fleming presented Pope with the college’s Weisiger Cup during the annual Founder’s Day celebration in April. Pope’s name will be added to the sterling silver trophy, which is permanently housed in the Weisiger Center on campus.
“Jesse, we have witnessed the power of your passion and determination to achieve exceptional goals and to positively impact this community,” Fleming said, announcing the award. “We look forward to witnessing the distances you will cover and the new records you will set.”
Rhonda Mingo, assistant dean of students, called Pope bright and determined.
“I see her going anywhere she chooses to go, or being anything she chooses to be,” Mingo said. “Telling her she can’t do something is not a directive but a challenge. She’s going to find a way to do it.”
College would be a rigorous four years for any student with such accomplishments. But for Pope, life handed her another challenge as her mother, Sandy Doncaster, battled cancer.
Doncaster, who homeschooled her two daughters, was first diagnosed with breast cancer while Pope was in high school. Earlier this year, she learned the cancer was back and had spread all over her body. Her condition is terminal.
Doncaster surprised her daughter by attending the Founder’s Day celebration and seeing her receive the Weisiger Cup. During spring break this year, Pope and Doncaster visited France.
For a time, after radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Doncaster couldn’t walk on her own. Pope helped her mother to physical therapy appointments, and saw how the treatments enabled Doncaster to walk again.
“She is without a doubt the strongest woman I know,” Pope said of her mother, who lives in Lake Lure, N.C. It was another reason Pope chose to stay around Spartanburg for another year.
“I’m very close to my mom,” Pope said. “I think I’ll stay close to her.”
Written by Jenny Arnold of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
Photo credit Alex Hicks Jr.