It is around 8:40 p.m. on Friday and the scent of hair spray floats through the dorm room. Most girls in the room are taking their time straightening, styling or curling their long hair. Meanwhile, Jenna Robinson wraps her bandana around her head. Jenna is perched up on her bed just waiting for her friends before their fun night out.
When Jenna was eight years old, she was diagnosed with Alopecia—a type of hair loss from areas of the body where hair normally grows—after she went to what she thought was going to be a normal visit to the hairdresser to get a haircut. “All of a sudden my hairdresser calls my mom over and whispers ‘Do you know this is happening?’ I was losing hair from the back of my head. We had no idea. It was so scary at first we did not know what it was,” Jenna said. As a Division 1 Outdoor Track & Field athlete at Marist College, senior captain Jenna has a personal record in the 800 meter run at 2:18.44 minutes. She runs a 5:16.28 minute mile and has recently broken the record for the 4x800 meter relay while running at a pace of 2:16.0 during the relay.
Once Jenna and her mother gained more information on her diagnosis, they immersed themselves into a community of individuals who were in the same situation. Nancy Robinson, Jenna’s mother, says she went into “research mode.” Ms. Robinson also recalled, “I was talking to a friend that was a doctor and she said to me, ‘Sometimes it just is what it is.’ That silly phrase really helped me.”
Alopecia is a part of Jenna, but it is not what defines her. “For the most part I think it has kind of shaped my personality too. I generally don't wear makeup and I don't mind the way I am. It is part of me.”
When Jenna was eight years old she was also sitting in front of the television watching Steve Irwin and Animal Planet. As Jenna grew older, her love for nature grew even more. Jenna came into Marist College as a Biology major and ended up adding Environmental Science as a second major. Her research was published as a sophomore, and her third and fourth publications are pending right now. “I definitely want to go into research. I am leaning towards freshwater ecology right now and I want to go to grad school for that and get my PhD.”
“I generally do not wear makeup and I do not mind the way I am. It is part of me.”--Jenna Robinson
Most of the research that Jenna conducts is aided by Dr. Luis Espinasa, professor of Biology —who she names her “savior” at Marist. Jenna has traveled with him to Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, and Peru. She also achieved an internship in Minnesota this past summer with the help of a connection through Dr. Luis Espinasa.
“Right from the start Jenna has been one of the strongest in character and mature students that I have ever encountered,” said Dr. Espinasa. “With little outdoor experience before our first expedition to the Ecuadorian Andes, after day one, I recognized the type of leader she could be to her peers.” Dr. Espinasa asked her to be the TA for his future Machu Picchu and Peruvian Andes trekking. “I have never been disappointed about that decision,” he said.
Jenna remains thankful for her mom constantly helping her to maintain a positive attitude about her circumstances at such a young age. “I think the most amazing thing, is that Jenna never let Alopecia be an issue,” said Ms. Robinson. “It has not defined her. Maybe it has made her be more empathetic, but she was a very caring girl before Alopecia.” In addition to being a high achieving science student at Marist, Jenna is also a Division 1 Cross-country, Indoor, and Outdoor Track & Field athlete.
Jenna Robinson spends every day being her truest self. She was diagnosed with Alopecia when she was eight years old. Jenna is a Division 1 Cross-country, Indoor, and Outdoor Track & Field athlete at Marist—while also partaking in published, undergraduate research. Jenna is a senior now and she hopes to pursue graduate school and earn her PhD.
When asked if it is a struggle to balance both the time commitments, her answer is “never.” Jenna believes that running contributes to her being such a high achiever in school. “Without running, I think I would have too much free time and then I would procrastinate more,” she said.
“I was really shy back in middle school and I think that running Cross-country for my high school team really brought me out of my shell. It really helped my adjustment into high school and especially into college too.” Running has helped Jenna to conduct her life as who she is and was always meant to be.