A lifelong golfer and athlete, Kyle Jensen had hopes of becoming an athletic trainer and wasn’t necessarily planning to return to his hometown of Columbus. Then life dashed those plans.
Jensen made his way down to Overland Park, Kansas, in the mid-2000s and attempted to get the proper certification he needed in athletic training, only to learn how challenging that turned out to be for him. So he moved back home and had to essentially change his plans.
“It was disappointing at first,” Jensen recalled. “It just seems everyone gets to dream something and ends up doing the opposite.”
But that initial heartbreak ended up leading to a new opportunity that has arguably shaped Jensen’s life. Today he serves as account manager/donor recruiter as part of the American Red Cross’ Midwest Region, covering Columbus and communities within about a one-hour radius.
“Working with people you know, building those connections and working with people, in general, is what keeps me going,” Jensen said about what he does for American Red Cross. “And hearing stories about all the lives that are saved with donations – I absolutely love it.”
IN THE BEGINNING
Golf has been a significant part of Jensen’s life from early on, as his father, Bruce, introduced him to the game when he was just 2 years old. Like his dad and older brother before him, Stuart, he was hooked.
“(Stuart) was my golf competition all the way through high school,” Jensen said of his brother.
The brothers were constantly playing at the Elks Country Club and then Quail Run when it opened up in the early 1990s. Before long they were on the road, playing at courses wherever they could.
“I have been lucky enough to play courses (like) TPC Sawgrass (Florida) and Sandhills in Mullen, Nebraska,” he said. “Golf was just a family thing. I grew up golfing – my dad passed that down to the rest of the family.”
Jensen was undoubtedly a student of his father, who at one time had aspirations of playing professionally and competed in some mini-tours in California when he was younger. He had the chance to accompany his father when he traveled around the Cornhusker state coaching others in the sport.
“He also gave many lessons around the state of Nebraska, so when I was younger I would travel with him and played golf all day while he gave lessons," Jensen recalled. "I remember one day I ended up playing/walking 90 holes. I enjoyed making new contacts through the game and how the game is so technical with different shots you have to make. Plus, it is a mental game.”
Jensen is a product of the Lakeview Community Schools system, having completed all of his K-12 education there. So naturally, he golfed for the Vikings while in high school. Jensen played basketball and golf his freshman year but committed fully to the latter and gave up hoops when he began his sophomore season.
During his time at Lakeview High, the Vikings went to the state golf tournament as a team twice. He also went as an individual his senior year and took seventh overall.
“I did pretty well,” Jensen said of his prep golf career. “I enjoyed my four years on the golf team and the smaller class size Lakeview provided."
Jensen decided to pursue his associate degree at Central Community College-Columbus after graduating in 2001, though acknowledged it was a difficult decision because the Raiders did not have a golf team at that time.
But after obtaining that degree, Jensen went up to Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota, where he hoped to pursue his passions for athletics and medicine.
“I really wanted to do something with sports. I had always been involved in sports,” Jensen said. “I thought athletic training would be good. I thought about pursing physical therapy after receiving my athletic training degree .”
During a summer break between his school years in South Dakota, Jensen began dating the woman who would become his wife, Amanda. The two knew each other previously, as she attended Columbus High. They had mutual friends they hung out with during summer vacations that put them in the same places at the same time and paved the way to their relationship.
Jensen said acquiring all the necessary certification for athletic training post-graduation was difficult, and though it didn’t work out, coming back to Columbus made sense. He and Amanda married on Jan. 13, 2007, about a year-and-a-half after they got together.
“That’s her birthday,” he said, laughing. “And my birthday is Jan. 9, so that’s always a busy time.”
FINDING HIS NEW CALLING
Upon returning to Columbus in 2006, Jensen initially worked for BD Medical. But before long he got a job working as a rehab tech for Columbus Community Hospital’s Premier Physical Therapy. He did that full-time up until 2015 when friend Amy Brown presented him with an opportunity to work for humanitarian organization American Red Cross.
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“She’s a good friend of mine and she told me they were looking to hire someone in this area,” he said. “She thought I would be a good fit.”
As part of his duties, Jensen travels within a one-hour radius of Columbus to help organize area blood drives and is constantly recruiting and meeting with donors and volunteers, among other things.
“There is a lot of work, I travel quite a bit,” he said. “But I enjoy going to the blood drives, helping out and visiting with the donors and volunteers.”
Samantha Pollard, Midwest communications manager for the Red Cross’ Blood Services, has worked with Jensen for three years. She said he has been a great asset to the organization.
“He is an incredible representative of the area in Columbus. He is very dedicated to what he does,” Pollard said. “You can tell by the turnout at all the blood drives he put together that people respond well to Kyle … I can’t imagine we would have such great support in the city without Kyle there.”
Pollard has ties to Columbus as her husband’s family lives in the area, so she hears about things happening locally and knows Jensen is an active community member.
“He has his finger on the pulse of Columbus,” Pollard said. “Everybody loves Kyle.”
Although Jensen appreciates the kind words, he said all of his many volunteers and donors are the ones who really make everything come together. In July, he helped coordinate 41 blood drives in the area.
“I couldn’t do it without volunteers,” he said. “And we have quite a few drives coming up.”
Among the many is the drive in honor of late Columbus resident Josh Gasper, which will take place from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at Peace Lutheran Church, 2720 28th St. Gasper’s life was cut short on Aug. 6, 2018, at age 22, as a result of injuries sustained from an Aug. 2, 2018, auto-motorcycle accident near Humphrey. Gasper was given more than 100 units of blood products after his motorcycle accident, according to Jensen, who added Gasper's family and friends wanted to make the drive an annual event after its success last year as a way to honor their late loved one.
Then there’s a blood drive in honor of Sammy’s Superheroes that will run from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday in the parking lot east of the Hy-Vee gas station.
Jensen said he hopes to get as many people as possible out to donate blood, noting the Red Cross has a hard time getting donors during the summer months because people are on vacation or have other commitments. He himself wasn’t a blood donor until several years ago when his wife had him find the time do it and make a difference. That was well before he began working for the Red Cross, though.
“It’s an easy way to give back and you lose one pound after you donate. It's a good weight loss program,” he said, with a chuckle. “Plus, you find out what your blood type is. But more importantly, you can make a difference in somebody else’s life.
When Jensen isn’t handling his Red Cross responsibilities, he still works on a part-time basis for the hospital as a rehab tech. He’s also on the church council at the family's parish, Trinity Lutheran Church.
He admittedly hasn’t been out on the links too much this year, noting he has only had time to participate in a few scrambles. He mostly enjoys spending time with his family, which also includes his three children: daughters Lilli, 11; Abby, 9; and son Lucas, 3.
“I like chasing the kids around with their activities,” he said, with a big grin.
Amanda, a mortgage officer at U.S. Bank, said Jensen is the ultimate family man and takes pride in what he does for a living, adding he brings his A-game to everything he does.
“As far as his work and family life, he pretty much gives 110 percent all the time,” she said. “He always steps up.”
She said she knows that her husband did have the ambition to work as an athletic trainer, but noted that career would have required a lot more night and weekend work. That’s why he’s so happy today – he gets time for family and his career while also working in medicine and athletic training, to a degree.
“It’s the best of both worlds for him,” she said. “… I think it’s a way he can give back to our community and a position that helps him support his family at the same time.”
In Jensen’s mind, everything has worked out the way it was meant to be. He said he loves having time for family, rewarding careers and living in a community that supports one another.
“It’s a caring job. Red Cross, Premier Physical Therapy, you’re helping people … you’re saving lives,” he said, noting it’s nice and helpful to have his parents (Bruce and Connie) still living in Columbus and Amanda’s folks not too far away in Kearney. “And there are different benefits to being here – there is something happening every week. It’s tremendous to see people helping out however they can.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org