U volleyball player and younger sister are with each other every step of the way

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 14, 2011 - 6:35 AM

Jessica Granquist is the defensive specialist for the Gophers volleyball team. Equally impressive is her sister, Christina, who has battled blindness with seven cornea transplants and countless other surgeries.

hide

Within her own U schedule, Christina Granquist (left) is back to being able to watch Jessica play volleyball after experimental eye surgery this summer.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Jessica Granquist is the defensive specialist for the Gophers volleyball team. She is known both for skills and for a high level of competitive fire at the libero position.

You can also detect that fire when Jessica talks about the treatment that her younger sister Christina received from the University of Minnesota masses as she moved about campus a year ago.

Christina was born blind with the rare disease Peter's anomaly. Through a series of cornea transplants as an infant, the vision was restored in her right eye.

"Cornea transplants only last so long and they will wear out," Christina said.

Christina was a month short of her 17th birthday when it became apparent that was about to happen with her right eye. Two cornea transplants had failed to restore her vision.

"She went through two surgeries where the cornea was rejected," Jessica said. "She goes through absolute misery with these surgeries -- the bleeding, the throwing up, the stitching, all of it.

"After the second surgery failed, Christina said: 'I'm going to go blind. I'm going to learn the skills to live this life. I'm going to learn to read Braille. I'm going to learn to be mobile without sight.'"

Christina followed her sister and her brother Rick to the U. Jessica would accompany her sister to class as often as possible. Christina used a walking stick to feel in front of her and to the sides.

And it was what she saw during those times last fall that still had Jessica fired up during a conversation last week.

"People don't understand," Jessica said. "It's not their life, so it's meaningless to them. They are in a rush and they don't care who is in their way. It made me so mad, to see my sister bumped, cut off on the sidewalk, offered no assistance. And if they weren't doing that, they were staring.

"What's wrong with so many people that they don't care about anyone else?"

Christina made it through her freshman year with a near-4.0 grade point. At the same time, Dr. Ed Holland, the eye surgeon who had treated Christina at the U, was informing the Granquist family of an experimental approach that his team was taking toward cornea transplants.

Holland is now at the University of Cincinnati. Christina went there during the first week of July to undergo the experimental surgery.

"Two weeks later, I started to see a little bit and knew that it had worked," Christina said. "My vision isn't perfect -- not 20-20 -- but I can see again with my right eye."

Last fall, Christina attended a number of Jessica's matches at the Sports Pavilion.

"She would come up to me and say, 'The comments I heard in the crowd were that you played real well; congratulations,'" Jessica said.

This fall, Christina doesn't have to take the word of others. She will be able to view Jessica's excellence -- and that will come as no surprise to Christina.

"Jess always has been a great athlete, at any sport she tried," Christina said. "I played, too, but I had more desire than talent. I was a junior and on junior varsity at Blaine [High School] when my eye started failing."

Volleyball and this family go back to when Mom, Marie Granquist, excelled in the sport as Marie Sandor at Hibbing High School for Gail Nucech, a coaching legend. Nucech is in her 43rd season and is the state's all-time winner in volleyball.

"She's the one who got me and my friends involved," Marie said. "She used to call us gym rats."

Marie became a coach at Fridley High School and Totino-Grace. And Jessica became even more a gym rat.

"Jess started going to volleyball practice when she was in my belly," Marie said. "My players were throwing a ball to her as soon as she could walk. And she walked at 8 1/2 months."

Rick did double duty in the fall at Blaine -- playing soccer and place-kicking in football. He's a senior in communications at Minnesota. Jessica is a senior at the Carlson Business School.

And Christina? "She's so smart, she can do anything," Jessica said. "She's talking about becoming a doctor."

Christina has had seven cornea transplants and countless other surgeries. She had her left eye removed at age 4.

"It was a blessing," Marie said. "It was done to stimulate the brain to make her right eye stronger, and that's what happened."

Through all the surgeries, including the disappointments of rejected transplants, there is an emotion that Jessica doesn't carry when it comes to her sister.

"I would never feel sorry for Christina -- for her life," Jessica said. "I love her to death, and one thing she has never wanted is sympathy. She has a determination and a spirituality that are amazing."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Toronto 104 FINAL
Indiana 91
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Detroit 95
Milwaukee 109 FINAL
Miami 102
Memphis 109 FINAL
Dallas 90
Chicago 113 FINAL
Golden State 111
Washington 98 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
NY Rangers 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 4
Arizona 3 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 4
Winnipeg 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 5
Washington 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Carolina 4
Dallas 2 FINAL
Montreal 3
Detroit 5 FINAL
Florida 4
Colorado 3 FINAL(OT)
Nashville 4
Buffalo 1 FINAL
Calgary 4
Minnesota 2 FINAL
Edmonton 1
Anaheim 4 FINAL
Vancouver 0
Ball State 47 FINAL
Akron 59
Northern Ill 46 FINAL
Bowling Green 56
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Buffalo 77
Ohio 40 FINAL
Eastern Mich 76
Xavier 66 FINAL
Georgetown 53
Vanderbilt 62 FINAL
Georgia 70
West Virginia 65 FINAL
Kansas State 59
Central Mich 53 FINAL
Kent State 63
Saint Josephs 48 FINAL
La Salle 53
Nebraska 44 FINAL
Michigan 58
Miami-Ohio 65 FINAL
Toledo 70
Tulsa 62 FINAL
Tulane 55
George Washington 48 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 72
Pittsburgh 67 FINAL
Virginia Tech 70
Indiana State 78 FINAL
Evansville 89
Tabor College 53 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Florida 52 FINAL
Alabama 50
Tennessee 64 FINAL
Arkansas 69
Texas A&M 71 FINAL
Auburn 61
Baylor 53 FINAL
Oklahoma State 64
DePaul 0 Postponed
Providence 0
Michigan State 0 Postponed
Rutgers 0
Wyoming 44 FINAL
Utah State 56
Fresno State 47 FINAL
San Diego St 58
UNLV 67 FINAL
Nevada 62
SD Christian 54 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 79
Colorado State 78 FINAL
Boise State 82
Temple 71 FINAL
UCF 54
Campbell 42 FINAL
Presbyterian 51
Coastal Carolina 65 FINAL
High Point 73
Gardner-Webb 49 FINAL
Radford 59
UNC-Asheville 58 FINAL
Liberty 62
Winthrop 63 FINAL
Longwood 62
Columbia International 33 FINAL
Charleston Southern 74
Tulane 63 FINAL
Houston 46
(3) Baylor 89 FINAL
TCU 67
Navy 49 FINAL
American Univ 59
Valparaiso 42 FINAL
Illinois-Chicago 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Do you favor the plan for expanded athletic facilities at the U of M?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close