Our Neighbors....Breanna Tucker

At the tender age of 15, it's easy to understand why Breanna Tucker might balk at the sight of an IV, or pale at the thought of going to the hospital. But what this very dedicated and talented soccer player has going for her is a surprising degre...

Breanna Tucker sports the T-shirt that will be for sale next week at the soccer clinic in memory of her brother, Jordan, who died last year of a heart arrhythmia. [Wendy Johnson/]

At the tender age of 15, it's easy to understand why Breanna Tucker might balk at the sight of an IV, or pale at the thought of going to the hospital. But what this very dedicated and talented soccer player has going for her is a surprising degree of emotional maturity, honed by the untimely death of her big brother, Jordan.

Jordan Tucker, an all-star CEC high school soccer goalie, died a year and a half ago of a heart arrhythmia that took his life virtually overnight. The aftershock for all who loved him was profound, and so was the fear. His mother, Barb Krzenski, immediately took her two daughters for testing at Rochester's Mayo Clinic on the outside chance they, too, might carry the fatal heart condition in their genes. And though the EKGs on both the girls were clear, the family understandably continues to worry, doubt - and think of Jordan.

This summer Breanna (or "Bre," as she is known to friends and family) decided to do something positive to memorialize Jordan - both as a person and as an all-star soccer player. In honor of Jordan's past participation in Duluth's sister city exchange program, she decided to participate as one of 60-some local U15 and U16 girls and boys soccer players in traveling to Sweden. Chances are, Jordan would have been proud of his little sister...

Breanna, who grew up in Cloquet, became involved in youth soccer at a young age.

"I just kind of copied Jordan," she admitted, "but after I'd played for a while, I realized it was really fun. I started by just kind of kicking the ball around and doing whatever I could do. At that point, we were mostly in it to have fun."


During her first year of competitive soccer in seventh grade, however, things were a bit different.

"I just started being aggressive when I got to the competitive level," she explained.

That was particularly evident when she settled in at playing defense on a steady basis.

"At defense," she said, "you know you're going to take a lot of hits from the forwards, and you have to learn you just need to get back up. You need speed, aggression and quick thinking and know where to pass the ball, because you don't want to have it taken away. You also have to be able to talk and be intelligent in the game and tell people where to go because at defense you can see the field better."

Bre's very first year of competitive soccer proved to be a real barn burner.

"We won State!" she exclaimed. "We all got along so well and there was no drama on the team. We had team bonding parties and we just loved to hang out with each other."

Big brother Jordan, by then a varsity soccer player, went to as many of her games as possible and gave her feedback from time to time as well. In fact, he was there when her team won the state tournament that first year.

"They had a shootout at the end, and Bre made a goal," said her mother. "I couldn't watch, but Jordan did - and then he told me what happened!"


Bre's team won all but one of its games that season, and she's been playing with basically the same group of girls, and for the same coach, ever since.

Now 15 and going into 10th grade at Esko High School, Bre played soccer for Cloquet's U15 competitive soccer team this summer, and she said play had really been going very well for her and the team. Far and away, however, the high point of her season was to be the trip to Sweden to play teams from Duluth's sister city.

Ironically, Jordan hurt his ankle right before his team was slated to make the exchange trip to Sweden two years ago, a fact that was to come back to haunt Bre and her mother in an excruciating moment of déjà vu.

The Duluth-area group took two teams in each of the U15 and U16 age categories. Some 90 people in all made the trip, including players, coaches and parents. Bre's mom made the trip along with her.

The group left for Sweden on June 30. Vaxjo, a city of 80,000, is much the same size as its sister city of Duluth. Bre stayed with the host family of a girl named Sandra Franzen, who lived in a nearby village.

Despite a heat wave that moved in shortly after they arrived, the first day Bre's team played two games and three the next.

It was midway through the fifth game that things went very wrong for Bre. Because of a shortfall in the brackets, the American U15 team found itself playing the American U16 team.

"We didn't want to lose to each other, so everyone was kind of pumped up and being aggressive," detailed Bre. "Another girl and I were going for the ball, and I hit it right before she kicked it, so she accidentally hit my foot. I landed on it and it twisted inward. I started sobbing and cradling my foot after I hit the ground."


The ambulance was called immediately and the first thing emergency personnel did was put an IV into Bre's arm.

"I couldn't understand what they were saying, so I didn't exactly know what was going on," related Krzenski. "As it turned out, if she had broken her ankle, they wanted to take her boot off and set it right there on the field. That's how they take care of things there. They actually have a doctor who rides along on the ambulance. They also gave her morphine right away and put her under briefly in order to move her from the sidelines into the ambulance."

"It was quite the experience," grinned Bre in retrospect.

"What scared me the most, with all of the heart issues we'd discovered after Jordan's death," said Krzenski, "was that I didn't know how her heart was going to react to the morphine or being put under, since they don't know for sure whether Jordan was born with his condition or if he developed it over time."

Bre's mom rode with her in the ambulance, which both said was an experience in itself.

"It was sweet!" said Bre. "The ambulance was green and black striped with those long fins on the back, kind of like a Batmobile!"

It was only a five-minute ride to the hospital, where Bre was assigned to an area designated for those with leg and ankle injuries, explained Krzenski.

"They told us, 'If you're not bleeding, you'll wait,' since they only had one doctor. We waited for five hours!"


In the meantime, ER assistants had put an air cast on Bre's ankle to support it, so she said it actually felt pretty good. In fact, the whole time she was waiting to see the doctor she did what teenagers do - texted, posted comments on Facebook, and asked her mom to take pictures to record the episode.

A subsequent X-ray showed Bre's ankle was not broken, so she was released with a pair of "Tiny Tim-like" crutches.

Bre and her mom then went back to the home of Bre's host family and a large group of concerned friends, coaches, parents and fellow soccer players.

"They had a big 'Breanna update' posted on the wall of the hotel where the parents and coaches were staying," said Krzenski.

The day afterward was another story. Bre's ankle had swelled up to the size of her thigh. Despite all, she attended her team's final game, watching from the sidelines, and they earned third place in the competition.

After she got back home, Bre's ankle was X-rayed once again and the doctor confirmed she had a torn ligament.

"It's soccer, and injuries happen," stated Bre matter-of-factly. "Defense is rough, and you gotta just take it. In fact, I was watching my Cloquet competitive team play our last game, and Gracie Sinisalo did exactly the same thing on her same foot, so now we're like twins! By now, I've kind of gotten used to the pain and work through it."

Perhaps, that's because Bre has her eye on tryouts for the upcoming varsity soccer season, which is motivating her to get up and running once again.


"I want to follow in Jordan's footsteps and make the All Star team," she said. "And the college where I want to play soccer is St. Scholastica. A bunch of my friends and one of my ex-coaches go there, and I know it's a really good program, plus their academics are really good, too."

Though Bre will be unable to play soccer for three or four more weeks and will be undergoing physical therapy, she has continued to support her team. She hasn't missed a practice or a game despite having to hobble to the field for the two-a-day practices and sit on the sidelines to watch.

All through this year's competitive soccer season, Bre has worn a blaze orange wristband and shoelaces in honor of Jordan and his love of hunting, and in fact, her entire competitive team has done the same, along with several of Jordan's former teammates.

At the team's last game of the year, Bre's mother was standing next to a woman who asked why they were wearing orange wrist bands and shoelaces, and the coach's wife explained to her, "Why, it's in remembrance of Jordan Tucker - Breanna's brother."

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