WATSONVILLE — As a preschooler, Chloe Deleissegues could name off every U.S. president, what party they belonged to, the year they entered office and a couple of interesting facts about each one. 

She has admittedly lost that ability over the years — probably while making room in her brain for the eight honors and 10 advanced placement classes she’s taken at St. Francis High School — but one president still holds a special place not only in her mind, but also in her heart: Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

The 26th president, one of four faces on the Mount Rushmore Memorial, was born a sickly child with debilitating asthma, but he did not let that slow him down. He battled his health problems by becoming a tank of a man, specializing in outdoorsmanship and living what historians called “a strenuous lifestyle.”

Deleissegues, diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 11, has lived her life the same exact way. She doesn’t want people to feel bad for her. She doesn’t need any extra attention. And if you go easy on her on the basketball court, soccer pitch or track, you will be sorry. 

“I simply don’t want people’s sympathy,” Deleissegues said. “I want to be judged like any other kid.”

Deleissegues, a multi-sport senior athlete with a 4.55 grade point average, was recently named the Central Coast Section Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

A four-year member of the varsity basketball and track teams at the private school in Watsonville, Deleissegues is also a star club soccer player outside of school. She’s played with the Santa Cruz Breakers for several years, and is currently a member of the Santa Cruz Jaws. 

A CCS champion in basketball as a freshman, Deleissegues, who was with her mother, Michelle, when she won the award, is now recognized for her brains instead of her brawn.

“Me and my mom were screaming when I found out,” she said. “We just couldn’t believe it.”

The CCS Scholar-Athlete of the Year scholarship program selects a male and female recipient from the hundreds of schools competing in the section. The CCS narrows the field to nine boys and nine girls by naming a scholar-athlete for each league.

Deleissegues won the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League’s nomination a few weeks back, and was named the best in the section shortly after a sit-down interview with CCS representatives. In total, she won $2,000 in scholarship money — $500 from the SCCAL and $1,500 from the CCS.

“My brother’s in college already and all the schools I want to go to are expensive,” Deleissegues said. “The idea of anything helps, is true for me. This is huge.”

Deleissegues said her short list of potential landing spots includes Seattle University, Montana State, Pitzer College, UC Santa Barbara and Dominican. She wants to major in one of the health sciences and hopes to one day work in occupational therapy.

She said her health struggles during her middle school years helped her find her calling. 

Born into an active and outdoorsy family, Deleissegues was only three weeks old when she spent her first summer at Yellowstone National Park at her grandparent’s cabin just 20 minutes outside of the park’s entrance. 

She played several sports growing up, but soccer, which she found at 4, was her favorite. She also participated in the Junior Lifeguard Program around the same age, but had to call it quits at 6. The water, even with a wet suit, was much too cold for her. That, Michelle said, was the first sign that there might be something wrong.

“She’d come out of the water shivering,” Michelle said. “The other kids were cold, too, but she was in pain. She couldn’t do it.”

Her health problems didn’t intensify until she was 9. Deleissegues came home with what she thought was an extremely sore throat after the last day of a summer soccer camp. A day later, she was in so much pain that simply trying to eat dinner would bring her to tears.

“She couldn’t swallow anything,” Michelle said. “It was a really tough time for her for the next couple of years.”

Deleissegues underwent numerous tests while her body, she said, felt like it was shutting down on her. She battled with anemia, had shooting pains in her gut that felt like “burning knifes trying to cut their way out,” and struggled to put on weight, staying at 76 pounds for the duration of fifth and sixth grade.

“My life kind of got put on hold,” she said. “For a while, I couldn’t do anything. I was stuck on the couch. I was too weak. I was just tired all the time.”

Deleissegues and her family finally found some answers when she was 11. An endoscopy provided them with a diagnosis, and for the next three years doctors perfected a concoction of medications special for Deleissegues’s case. 

An incurable autoimmune illness that attacks through the digestive track, Crohn’s disease knocked her down several times during those three years, but she did not let it stop her from living a normal childhood. No matter how sick or tired she felt, Deleissegues would force herself off the couch and out the door to practice. And when her own efforts weren’t enough, Michelle or her father, Eric, were there to lend a hand. 

Michelle said she remembers picking up a chatty group of girls after a soccer match, and taking a quick look into the back of the van. 

“They were all super excited talking about the game but Chloe was dead asleep. It was like, ‘wow, it took everything out of her to play the game,’” Michelle said. “She didn’t want to miss. She wanted to be there with her team … She’s never wanted people to make exceptions for her. She’s always been someone who’s ran at things full-force for better or worse.”

By the time Deleissegues started her freshman year at St. Francis, she was in remission, and, save for the medication and a somewhat restrictive diet, was back to her usual energetic and inquisitive self. She quickly earned playing time on the basketball team in the winter, and coach Ramona Young convinced her to run track in the spring. 

Along with her athletic achievements and academic progression, Deleissegues also volunteered at several organizations during her time at St. Francis. She is a regular at the Pajaro Valley Historical Association and was named the Young Historian of the Year in 2017. She also volunteered at the Pediatric Therapy Center in Aptos and Tatum’s Garden in Salinas, and has served as a guest for the SPEAK Network, a group of volunteers who share their disease and treatment stories to educate and inspire others.

The school plans on honoring Deleissegues’s award with a banner in the gym.

“She’s just a well-rounded kid and she completely deserves it,” said St. Francis Athletic Director Adam Hazel.

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