April 18, 2002

"I never looked at it as a handicap," said sophomore Keara Jones, a member of the Oklahoma soccer team. "When you're born with it, you learn to live with it. Others may see it as one, but I don't."

What Jones is talking about is her right eye. Nerve damage in her eye caused her to lose sight at birth. Sure, she may have trouble focusing at times, but that has never stopped her from doing the things she's wanted to do.

"It has never been a hindrance to me," said Jones, a native of Pryor, Okla. "I was extremely active growing up and played basketball and soccer in high school. Never once did I feel having sight in just one eye was slowing my potential. Also, my parents didn't cater to me."

Although talented in both sports, Jones' strength (and love) was in soccer. Jones' primary position was goalkeeper and she went on to earn a scholarship to Southwest Baptist University (Missouri).

As freshman at the NCAA Division II school in Bolivar, Mo., Jones earned honorable mention all-conference honors but played in the field and not in her beloved position-the goal.

After the season, the head coach of Southwest Baptist left and Jones asked for her release.

"Despite the success I had at Southwest, I still dreamed of playing soccer at Oklahoma," said Jones, a health and sport sciences major. "So, I gave (OU Head Soccer Coach) Randy Evans a call."

Evans and Jones met during one of the Evans' first soccer camps in Norman during the summer of 1999.

"I knew about her condition before camp," said Evans. "But you couldn't tell by the way she played. Her dedication and work ethic to the game is what really set her apart.

"When she called me last year about joining the team, I told her she could join but with a few stipulations. She had to walk on to the squad and the only spot for her was as a backup goalkeeper."

Jones immediately jumped at the offer. "It didn't matter to me what position I played, I just wanted to be part of the team."

Although she did not see action during the 2001 season, a couple of circumstances this spring forced her to the forefront.

"I'll be honest, I never thought a third-string goalkeeper was going to get any playing time, even during the spring," said Evans.

However, Oklahoma's starting goalkeeper, freshman Catherine Wade, was out with a shoulder injury and the second-string goalie, junior Jana Cunningham, was taking the spring semester to study abroad in France. That left Jones.

To add to the challenge, OU had a daunting spring schedule with four NCAA postseason teams from the year before, including a Final Four representative in Florida. But this only gave Jones a chance to shine.

"To do what she is doing is pretty remarkable," said Evans said of Jones, who has four shutouts so far this spring. "We're talking about our third-string goalie although she is certainly not playing like one."

Jones isn't quick to give herself credit but is the first to acknowledge her teammates.

"I couldn't have done this without my teammates' support," said Jones. "Ever since day one, they've pushed me as much as I've been able to push myself."

Evans says her contribution goes beyond her performance this spring.

"She's a tremendous presence on this team," said Evans. "What's even more impressive is the fact that she's never used her disability as an excuse. And, to me, she is one of the very few athletes I've seen who has a legitimate excuse.

"God has allowed me to look past this," said Jones, who aspires to coach soccer at any level after graduation, "and focus on the things I can do."