Monday, Feb. 23, 2009 | 6:22 p.m.
Saying Nevada State College senior Jess Kusak fell into another career could not be more true. The former professional ballerina literally broke a leg performing and has pivoted toward a future in communications.
The 27-year-old Henderson resident has been named a 2009 Regent Scholar — a $5,000 award bestowed annually on students for their academic achievements, leadership ability and service contributions.
For Kusak, those contributions are many. She received a six-month fellowship with Nevadans for Hillary, has served as a senator with the Nevada State Student Alliance and is editor-in-chief of student publication "The Scorpion's Tale." Kusak is also trying to bring honor society Phi Kappa Phi to the institution and works part time as a communications assistant in the Office of College Relations.
"It was definitely a big honor — a welcome surprise," Kusak said.
Her busy life at Nevada State is far removed from life on stage — a choice she said she made when she was just 4. At 14, she received a scholarship to attend the School of American Ballet in New York City. At 19 she joined Ballet Arizona in Phoenix — where her nascent career ended.
Five years ago, she tumbled to the ground, but initially thought nothing of it.
"Falling is commonplace in the dance world," Kusak said. "If there's no bones sticking out, you just keep going. It didn't hurt at the time."
But once the adrenaline faded, she went to the hospital, where she discovered her fibula, between her knee and ankle, was broken, and she had torn the surrounding ligaments and muscle tissue. After a seven-week recuperation period — three of them bedridden — she returned, but the pain was great.
"It was never going to go away," she said. "I could keep doing what I love and end up hating it as a result or do Plan B."
She chose the latter, moving to Henderson, where she has also cared for two ailing grandparents.
Last year, while juggling caregiver duties, a part-time job and her studies, she worked on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
"Since I was a child, she was somebody I very much admired," Kusak said. "I read both of her books when I was younger and have always been inspired by any sort of grass-roots movement."
Often, she said she worked 10- to 12-hour days, planning rallies and doing field and data work.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Kusak said. "It was definitely a big boost as far as being in an environment where you're making changes happen."
She hopes to continue along the same path after pursuing her master's degree in communications.
"I'd like to work in the nonprofit area — a community organization or anything to do with political campaigns," Kusak said.
For now, she said she is grateful for the recognition and the money to help pay for graduate school.
"I hope what little I've done inspired others in their second career," Kusak said. "You really can't predict your own future. I'm a believer that things do happen for a reason."
Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].