On a recent August afternoon, Jessica L’Hoste was taking a nap, resting up between UT Tyler soccer practices as two-a-days were in full force.
Her phone rang, awaking her from her slumber.
It was a call that suddenly changed her life.
Instead of heading to practice with her Patriot teammates, she packed her bags and headed south toward Houston to join the 136th Military Police Battalion.
The Texas National Guard unit had been called up as Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas coastline.
The 22-year-old senior from Austin enlisted in the Army Reserves two years ago. She had been training at the Tyler Armed Forces Reserve Center west of Tyler while continuing her studies toward her major of Kinesiology as well as playing for the Patriot soccer squad.
“I had been training for two years, but this was the first time we were called up,” L’Hoste said on Wednesday as she was trying to return to normalcy at UT Tyler. “We had trained for emergencies, but I really did not know what to expect.”
L’Hoste, a defender for the Patriots and a graduate of Waldorf School in Austin, said she was both nervous and excited as her unit headed toward the Houston area.
“We were helping out anyway we could - from search and rescue to helping with supplies,” said L’Hoste, who said they also rescued pets. “We were mainly in the Katy-area and Sugar Land, but really we went where we were needed.”
The words are hard to find to describe the situation, she said.
“The biggest (memory) was seeing the kids still smiling even though their homes were gone and their lives were turned upside down,” L’Hoste said. “We were just trying help out as much as we could.”
L’Hoste said the support for her and fellow guardsmen was overwhelming.
“I received text messages from not only my team but other sports members at UT Tyler and other people from all over UT Tyler and my family,” L’Hoste said. “We didn’t realize the impact we were having down there. It felt good to have that support.”
Her coach and teammates are so proud of L’Hoste.
“It’s humbling for our team right now,” UT Tyler head coach Stefani Webb said. “For us to have a leader on our team that is doing what she is doing for others is incredible. I’m very proud to have a member of our family who is invested and committed in helping others.”
L’Hoste said her professors have given her a break with her studies as she is getting caught up with plans to graduate in May.
Her goal is to be a physical therapist, eventually helping military veterans.
“I’ve been to many rehab centers and I’ve seen a lot … I just want to give back and help the veterans,” she said.
Now, she is ready to get back on the pitch.
The Patriots (3-0) take on rival UT Dallas on Thursday at Citizens 1st Bank-Perkins Soccer Complex. The women’s game is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.
“I’m anxious to play soccer again, but you can’t help but think about there is so much more to do down there,” she said.
Webb added, “Her heart is in serving. Serving her country. Serving her community. It is a big part of her identity. I can really tell her life has changed for the better since she joined the Reserves. She walks with a purpose every day and is always positive. You can see it right away. She is structured and goal-oriented in everything she does.”
The UT Tyler Patriots and the UT Dallas Comets play a soccer doubleheader on Thursday at Citizens 1st Bank-Perkins Soccer Complex. The women play at 5 p.m. followed by the men at 7:30 p.m.