Nearly a decade after playing in her final WNBA game, former basketball sensation Jackie Stiles still enjoys competing.
About the only thing she enjoys more these days are trips home to Claflin to visit family and friends.
“I love, love, love Claflin,” said Stiles, who set the career scoring record in the state at Claflin High School in 1997. “Anytime I get to go home, it has special meaning, especially because I don’t get to go home as often as I used to.”
Stiles gets an opportunity to do both — compete and come home — when she returns for the Human (e)Motion Bike, Run, Walk event on June 2, sponsored by Great Bend Regional Hospital.
The 33-year-old Stiles is a flurry of activity this time of the year, flying all over the country, conducting basketball training camps, speaking to groups and providing personal training. She refers to her May-through-August busy season as harvest time, a reflection of her rural Kansas upbringing.
It’s those roots, which grounded her during high times when she became a national media darling. That Claflin connection provided solace during her lowest times when injuries and more than a dozen surgeries ended her professional career as a basketball star.
“The reason I reached the level that I did was because of all of the support I had growing up in Claflin,” said Stiles. “I would not have been the athlete that I was if it wasn’t for where I grew up and the people who influenced me.
“There are no distractions in a small town. That’s just what we did. We played constantly sport, to sport, to sport.”
At Claflin High School, she was a four-sport standout, competing in cross country, tennis, basketball and track and field from 1993-97. She also played summer softball.
While basketball was her strong suit, she was a state-champion contender in every sport and set a record with 14 gold medals throughout her career at the state track and field meet.
That base and her grueling work ethic propelled her to great heights as a basketball star at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State).
There, she became the NCAA career scoring leader, and led her Lady Bears team to the Final-Four, which included her scoring 41 points in an upset victory over top-ranked Duke, during her senior season.
Stiles capped off her collegiate career by being taken fourth in the WNBA Draft.
In 2001, the sky appeared to be the limit for Stiles as a professional player. The 5-foot-8 shooting guard was a WNBA All-Star and named “Rookie of the Year,” playing for the Portland Fire.
She had endorsement deals with Nike and Cingular Wireless, and a retail deal with Wal-Mart.
The real indicator to her basketball future, however, was the signs of wear and tear on her body.
By season’s end, she had a torn ligament in her right wrist, a fractured left wrist, a pulled groin and a bone bruise on her right knee.
Playing in her second season, she missed 11 games because of injuries. She underwent 13 surgeries in three years. There were a couple of comeback attempts during that time, but the injuries proved to be insurmountable. It was a bleak period for Stiles.
“I lost my identity without basketball,” remembered Stiles. “I got up every single day knowing that’s who I was. I told my second grade teacher that I was going to play professional basketball one day. When I lost that, I was lost for a little while.
“But then, I realized because of what I had done on the basketball court, that gave me a platform to have an impact on people. I had to reinvent myself. Now, I still feel like I have a purpose and I am passionate about having a positive influence on other people.”
Residing in Springfield, Mo., the city of her alma mater, Stiles continues to build her brand, which is J.Stiles Total Training.
She is currently recovering from another set of injuries, the result of training last year for the Olympic Trials Marathon. Now on the mend and able to run again, she’s coming to grips with the concept that her days of high-level competition are finished.
“My body can’t keep up with my drive,” said Stiles. “I swore in January that I would be happy to not compete anymore and I wouldn’t do any hard-core training, but now that I’m better, it’s tough for me not to train hard.
“But now I know my body can’t do it so I might jump into an occasional race, but as far as the hard-core training, I know if I get greedy I won’t be able to run at all and running is my one drug in working out. I know I have to cut the miles and the hours down.”
Though difficult to curb her innate competitive nature, Stiles now lives by the mantra, “If you have health, then you have wealth.” She’s even striving to make exercise a social event.
At 4 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, when she’s in Springfield, she joins friends for bike riding and running. It’s during those times when life seems perfect, once again, for Stiles as her purpose becomes clear.
“There are so many opportunities for everyone,” said Stiles. “I’m not a freak of nature, I blend in with everyone else. If you have a goal and a dream and you are willing to work at it, positive things will happen for you.
“Despite all the bad that has happened to me, I’ve been very fortunate and blessed because of my basketball career. I’m 33 years old and I’ve never been on an actual job interview. I’m extremely busy but I love what I do. I get to help young athletes and even adults reach their goals and dreams. It’s the next best thing to playing basketball.”