Jalan Sowell, a 17-year-old from Mt. Juliet, is the oldest of three boys in a family that loves sports. Jalan grew up playing basketball and football with his brothers; there was always something special about his natural football skills.
Jalan was a standout football player for his hometown team. Recruited by Division 1 teams before he was in the 10th grade, he saw football as a higher calling—a way to avoid putting the burden of the cost of college on his family; a potential career and a pathway to take care of his hardworking parents. Jalan says when he played football, he “felt like Superman.”
During his 11th grade year, Jalan was diagnosed with chronic pulmonary emboli—chronic, reoccurring blood clots in his lungs. Continuing to play sports was out of the question. In fact, his doctors said it could quite literally kill him. Initially angry about his diagnosis, Jalan wasn’t ready to go through the wish process when his medical team first brought it up.
As Jalan came to grips with his diagnosis and what it meant for his future, his coaches began to look for ways to keep Jalan engaged with the football program. They knew his raw talent, knowledge and leadership shouldn’t be wasted. His coaches proposed to Jalan that he assume the role of student coach for the team.
With his new role, he could see the impact his story of hope and perseverance could have on those overcoming not only medical obstacles, but life obstacles. With his renewed joy and passion for the game, Jalan decided the time was right to move forward with his wish.
When Jalan’s volunteer wish granters met with him, he expressed his desire to be featured in an ESPN feature. He said, “I want to spread the word and motivate others that can’t play sports anymore.” He went on to say that most important part of his wish would be helping others and changing their lives.
ESPN loved that Jalan wanted to share his story with the network’s audience, and they decided he would be a good fit for their annual “My Wish” series. ESPN host Chris Connelly surprised Jalan at a football camp at Tennessee Tech University as campers, coaches and his family looked on. There he was told he would not only be the subject of a segment, but he would also help produce the segment.
Jalan worked hand-in-hand with the ESPN production crew, deciding who should be interviewed and where to film b-roll. The crew filmed Jalan, his family, his coaches, his best friend and his teammates in Mt. Juliet before sending the Sowells to Bristol, CT to help edit his segment of the “My Wish” series.
Jalan’s segment aired in July 2017. Back home in Mt. Juliet, Jalan’s teammates gathered for a watch party to see the hometown star on
Since the segment aired, Jalan’s message of hope and perseverance has resonated with people across the country. After graduation, Jalan will study at the University of Memphis and serve as a student coach for the Tigers’ football team.