UMass women’s soccer forward Jackie Bruno opens up about her battle with Lyme disease

By Adam Aucoin

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Every athlete looks forward to his or her senior year. It’s the culmination of all the hard work that’s been put in over the years and signifies the end of competing with friends you’ve bonded with for the last four years.

For Massachusetts women’s soccer forward Jackie Bruno, her senior season ended all too soon.

The senior was given the news she never wanted to hear, when she was told she would be out for the rest of the 2015-16 season with Lyme disease, effectively ending her UMass (3-3-2) career.

According to WebMD, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by deer ticks infected with the Borella burgdorferi bacteria. Typical symptoms include rash at the site of the bite, lack of energy, general pain, and weakness in arms and legs, among other symptoms.

Bruno says the issue started after last spring semester.

“I was feeling really fatigued when I got home after last semester,” Bruno said. “I went to get blood tests, thinking I was just anemic and I needed to up my iron, but after a lot of tests and visits to a rheumatologist they told me that I tested positive for Lyme.”

Bruno thinks she was bitten by a tick around where she lives, leading to her infection.

“I didn’t really know much about it at all at first and after researching all the side effects that come with it and the side effects that came with my medication it was a little scary,” she said. “I caught it relatively early though, so I’m hoping with the medication I can get rid of it soon.”

The Staten Island, New York, native was very frustrated when she was given the news she would miss the rest of the year. Bruno was very durable throughout her three previous seasons, missing just two games last year with a foot injury that affected during the season. The foot injury required surgery last January and sidelined her for all preseason activities in the spring.

“I was finally cleared to play in June and I was excited to get back out there,” she said. “Unfortunately not long after, the positive test came back. That was pretty rough because I want to play more than anything. Having to sit out and not do anything is never what any athlete wants to hear.”

The senior was able to make one appearance in a match this year against New Hampshire, but felt very tired and after she went back to the doctors, she was ruled out for the season.

Bruno acknowledged the support she has received from her teammates and coaches as she looks to become healthy once again. Like her, coach Ed Matz and her teammates did not have much knowledge of Lyme disease at all, but after having conversations with the doctors and being informed, they have been in full support of their friend in her battle.

She added that it hurts a little bit more that it happened during her final year as a Minutewoman.

“It sucks a little bit extra,” Bruno said. “Being in this program for four years and getting so close to my coaches, the team and my class especially, I wish I could have went out with a bang with my class, but all I can do is be supportive and wish the best for them whether I’m on the field or not.”

Bruno wants to get back into practice soon to help anyway she can and help the team improve even if it can’t be on the field.

In her absence, Bruno has been very impressed with what she has seen from her teammates.

“A lot of youngsters have stepped up to the plate,” she said. “They have a lot on their shoulders and I think they have all adjusted well to me not being there. As we start getting more wins, they are gaining more confidence and getting more comfortable, so I have a lot of hope for what’s to come.”

With her career at UMass at its end, Bruno is thankful for all of the people that helped her along the way.

“I always tried to instill that family vibe,” she said. “These girls are like my sisters. I would do anything for them, and I know they have my back like I have theirs.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected]