|Posted June 2, 2008|
Pack's Lewis weathers personal tragedy, finds success
By Lisa Coalwell, The Loveland
(Reposted with permission from the Loveland Reporter-Herald)
As a football and track standout at Loveland High School, Jesse Lewis made it all look easy. His personal life has been anything but.
Both he and his mother, Debra Roberts, almost didn't make it through his birth. She had to have a C-section seven weeks before he was due, and Jesse was born with asthma and a hole in his heart.
Although Jesse grew healthy, Debra's health deteriorated throughout her life. She developed multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and a bone-deteriorating disease in her hips. In constant pain, she became addicted to drugs, Jesse said.
When he was 16, he decided to confront her.
"I told her that I knew what was going on, and she needed to take care of priorities," Jesse said. "I told her that if it happened again, I was going to leave, and not be a part of her life anymore."
They moved from Loveland to Florida for a new chance at life, but her boyfriend there got her back into the drugs. They returned to Colorado, but Debra still could not get rid of the drug habit.
"I tried to get my mom to settle down and get on the right track, but she couldn't," Jesse said quietly.
He ended up moving out.
"I lived with friends, and then I'd live with my mom a little bit, but I didn't want to be a part of what was going on at my house - cops were coming there, and different people were moving in," he said.
Debra eventually lost her home and lived in motels with her boyfriend.
"My mom was supposed to be getting a settlement for something, and she was going to buy a house," Jesse said, "but apparently, time ran out."
His mother died in a car accident on a Weld County road in late November 2007. Police found drugs in the car but still don't know what caused Debra to cross the center line and hit another car head-on.
Earlier in the fall, Jesse's former stepfather - who still had been a part of his life - died of a heart attack.
"God knew that was going to happen," Jesse said, "so he put me in a good place when everything happened."
That good place was the home of Elisabeth and Mark Wadman, where he'd been living since the summer. They helped him cope with his mother's death, as did his aunt, his friends and his teachers.
"A lot of people, when something like that happens, their life just crashes," Jesse said. "But there's so much in life that I want to do - and that my mom wanted me to do - so I'm trying to do all those things first."
He and his mother planned for him to finish high school, play football in college and be the second person in his family to graduate from college.
May 31, he graduated. This fall, he'll play football for Colorado State University-Pueblo. And, he said, he'll graduate with a criminal justice degree. He wants to join the fight against drugs.
"A lot of teenagers who get caught up in that stuff don't know what it's going to do to them in the future," Jesse said. "They don't know it's going to affect their work ethic and their will to want to do anything. I've seen what it's done to three members of my family, slowly diminishing their lives."
His biological brother is in prison in New York, and his biological father went through a long period of drinking and drug addiction.
His father, though, has changed, Jesse said. The two had had little contact since Jesse was 8, but they recently started talking on the phone every other day. On May 31, Jesse's father arrived from Georgia to watch his son graduate.
It's an important day for Jesse.
"High school went well, and they were years to remember," he said, "but it all starts here - this is the beginning of my education