Jensen poses for a portrait on Sept. 10 in front of the baseball field at SF State, where he recorded his first strikeout after a spinal fusion surgery. (Oliver Michelsen / Golden Gate Xpress) (Oliver Michelsen)
Jensen poses for a portrait on Sept. 10 in front of the baseball field at SF State, where he recorded his first strikeout after a spinal fusion surgery. (Oliver Michelsen / Golden Gate Xpress)

Oliver Michelsen

SF State baseball player earns CalHope Courage Award for overcoming a life-changing diagnosis

After battling a tumor in his spinal cord and other health complications, Garrett Jensen is finally playing baseball again.

September 14, 2022

At 16 years old, doctors told him he might never walk again. But now, he is back on the baseball field.

Garrett Jensen’s life changed forever when doctors found a tumor the size of a small lemon in his spinal cord. If the tumor removal surgery had been just 24-48 hours later, he would have been permanently paralyzed from the waist down. After the surgery, which removed two of his vertebrae to reach the tumor, Jensen had to learn how to walk again.

“One thing I definitely took away was how precious life is,” Jensen said. “Being able to appreciate all the time you have and your health and loved ones. It was extremely challenging, but it’s made me a stronger person, on and off the field.”

At  21, Jensen is technically a senior but still has two years of eligibility, so he will still have three more seasons to compete at SF State. In recognition of all that Jensen has overcome, he was presented with the CalHOPE Courage Award on Monday night at Oracle Park, prior to the San Francisco Giants game. 

The award is given to two California college students who overcome personal hardship and adversity each month. The candidates are nominated by their schools and voted in by a panel of writers and editors from the College Sports Information Directors of America and the Associated Press.

Jensen after receiving the CalHOPE Courage Award prior to the San Francisco Giants game against the Braves on Sept. 12. (Oliver Michelsen / Golden Gate Xpress)
(Oliver Michelsen)

It took roughly a month for Jensen to walk on his own again. Two years later, the day after being accepted at SF State, an MRI revealed a problem with the healing process: his vertebrae were rubbing against each other. 

Jensen had spinal fusion surgery, which put him out of baseball as he recovered. After three years of MRIs and surgeries, Jensen remained positive and was able to get back to work on his baseball ability.

“Your spine controls everything,” Jensen said. “It’s the equilibrium of your body, balance and central nervous system. So I had to relearn how to do everything, not just walk, but stand and use my hands and things like that.”

As Jensen was recovering, he was missing out on time to improve as a baseball player while others at the high school level were continuing to improve their game in hopes of making a college team.

“What somebody can take from this whole thing is how important it is to stay positive through tough times,” SF State Baseball Head coach Tony Schifano said. “And Garrett was always positive. He always had a goal in mind to get back on the baseball field.”

Jensen’s positivity and courage has inspired those around him, including his coaches and teammates who look up to him. Schifano described the 6-foot-4 pitcher as friendly, energetic and a “big teddy bear.”

Though his story is known by those close to him, his perseverance and courage still gives his teammates chills.

“Every time I hear his story, I’m amazed that he not only went through that, but he’s the person he is today because of it,” said teammate and roommate Theo Dopkins. “And I’m so thankful for that. He’s like a brother to us, and we love him to death.”

The SF State baseball team is currently in the offseason and will take the field again in February. Jensen struck out six batters in nine innings pitched last season and will look to be an important part of the pitching staff for the upcoming season.

Jensen hopes to play baseball after he graduates. He is an English major who envisions a career as a sports journalist amid his passion for several sports including football and basketball.

“He’s so inspirational to kids who may have a similar condition to his,” teammate and roommate Nick Upstill said. “It shows everyone that just because you’re in the dumps right now doesn’t mean it can’t get better. Everyone loves him and he’s a light to our team.”

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About the Contributors
Photo of Jack Davies
Jack Davies, Sports Editor
Jack Davies (he/him) is a journalism major in his final year of school. He is minoring in international business. He loves to watch sports and write about them, but also has an interest in potentially traveling the world as a salesman. He grew up in Napa Valley, California, and moved to the East Coast when he was 11 years old. He started his college career at Santa Barbara City College, where he wrote for The Channels publication as a sports writer. In his free time, he likes to play sports, explore the Bay Area, hang out with friends, listen to music, play video games and watch TV. After graduating, he wants to write for a sports publication and travel the world.
Photo of Oliver Michelsen
Oliver Michelsen, Contributor
Oliver Michelsen (he/him) is a fourth-year journalism major and history minor. He currently serves as multimedia editor for Golden Gate Xpress' sister publication Xpress Magazine. Oliver has had a passion for taking photos and creating videos since he got his first camera in middle school. In his free time, he likes to camp, draw and read unhealthy amounts of One Piece in one sitting.

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