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Alumni Series: Dr. Sara (Kierpiec) Jager continues to serve her country and community

Dr. Sara (Kierpiec) Jager competing in a track and field event for FFCS.
Dr. Sara (Kierpiec) Jager competing in a track and field event for FFCS.

As we continue to introduce former students and faculty through the district’s inaugural Alumni Series, we learn more about their personal and professional backgrounds and their involvement in their respective communities. Today, we bring to you the story of Dr. Sara (Kierpiec) Jager. A 1996 graduate of FFCSD, she has an important story to share with our school community. After completing her time at FFCSD, she immediately began her college career at the United States Military Academy at West Point. At West Point, she became enrolled in what would become only the 20th graduating class of women at the academy. She majored in Medical Geography and Environmental Engineering and started a military career as a Military Police Officer after graduating in 2000. Her uniformed service continues to this day.

As a student at FFCSD she credits her coaches Dave Peterson and Mark Therrien for allowing her to understand what her purpose could be outside of school. She took that guidance and used it as a motivational tool to expand her horizons. It goes without saying that her impact on FFCSD, along with her own personal growth and determination, led her to this successful pathway.

Dr. Sara (Kierpiec) Jager competing for the West Point track and field program.
Dr. Sara (Kierpiec) Jager competing for the West Point track and field program.

Academically, Sara was at the top of her class and had a 4.0 GPA and excellent test scores.  She was secretary of her class and a member of the National Honor Society and volunteered at Sunday School and the Frothingham Library.  Athletically, she was a Section II outdoor track and field champion for all four years of her high school career and earned four varsity letters in outdoor track and three for indoor track, while holding numerous records for track and field. She was the team captain and MVP for each team.  She was also a force on the soccer field and was a three-time varsity letter holder in that sport as well as team captain and MVP in her senior year. In addition, she was named the Capital Region Scholar Athlete of the Year in 1996. Her athletic successes didn’t end at FFCSD. During her collegiate athletic career, she was a Division I varsity athlete for all four years for indoor and outdoor track and field while at West Point. In addition, she was named Eastern Coast Athletic Conference Scholar Athlete and Army Athlete of the week in 2000.

Dr. Sara (Kierpiec) Jager is currently Chief of Pediatrics at Tuba City Regional Healthcare in Northern Arizona.
Dr. Sara (Kierpiec) Jager is currently Chief of Pediatrics at Tuba City Regional Healthcare in Northern Arizona.

Dr. Sara (Kierpiec) Jager is also a decorated combat veteran having been awarded the Bronze Star during her service during the Iraq War from 2004-2005. She was an active duty military police officer for six years following her commission from West Point.  After the war in Iraq, she returned to the US and began her medical career as a medical student at Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland as an officer in the United States Public Health Service.  After medical school, she completed her pediatric residency training at the University of Utah and has been stationed on the Navajo Reservation since 2013.  In addition to being a community pediatrician, she has continued to lead at her hospital.  She serves on several hospital committees and has served as the Chief of Staff and Chief Medical Officer.  In 2018 she was named the Public Health Service Female Physician of the Year.  Sara was tasked as the interim Chief Medical Officer when Navajo Nation was hit by COVID in March of 2020.  Having served and led her colleagues throughout the crisis (her hospital was at the epicenter), she was named the Physician of Year by her peers for her incredible leadership.  She is currently serving as the Chief of Pediatrics at Tuba City Regional Healthcare in Northern Arizona on the western edge of the Navajo Reservation.  She is married to Justin Jager, a wildland firefighter and aviation officer for the National Park Service and a public servant himself for over 20 years.

With that being shared, we introduce you to Dr. Sara (Kierpiec) Jager as she provides a glimpse into the insight, dedication and determination of her achievements.

How did FFCSD help create a vision for you post high school? Any mentors that stood out?

I knew from a young age that I wanted to explore the world and that I wanted to go away to school.  I am the oldest of four children and my parents did not have a college fund for me, so I knew that athletics could be my ticket to higher education.  My track coaches made it a point to get us to big meets at colleges and universities so we could see campuses, get some experience traveling without our parents, and learn some responsibility to help us earn confidence and experience.  My teachers helped proof my essays and gave me the confidence to succeed outside of our small town.  I always felt well supported by my parents, school administrators and teachers, but the execution of how to get to the next step was ushered in by Coach Pete and Coach Therrien.  My mother, Dianne Kierpiec, made sure that I was on time with my essays and helped me to practice my interviews before meeting with the New York representatives.  I also received mentorship from my three younger siblings (Kate, Megan and Mitch) – they taught me patience and compassion and love.  Although it was hard to leave my family for the academy, it was the right decision for me.

As a student-athlete, what inspired you to excel on and off the field?

I really enjoy pushing my personal limits.  I like working hard today knowing I can reap the rewards tomorrow and I think this is true in athletics and academics.  I remain an athlete.  My athletic pursuits keep me sharp professionally and help to buoy my mental health.  I compete in endurance races and recently qualified for Ironman 70.3 World Championships.  I have run across the Grand Canyon and back (50 miles) and completed a full Ironman (140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running).  I enjoy being in austere environments that require physical and mental fitness.  Staying fit and active at 43 is even more important than it was at age 20 and I continue dedicated to daily training and look for that same adrenaline rush at the finish line that I found running hurdles 25 years ago.  The difference is now I have to spend considerably more time doing yoga and strength than I did when I was younger!  As a physician, I have to stay sharp and current in a quickly evolving field.  I work in a remote area and my patients depend on me to know a full spectrum of diseases because their nearest pediatric referral center is three hours away.  I continue to learn and read and grow for their benefit as well.

How has your lifelong commitment to the military shaped you as a person?

Service has always been very important to me.  My mother was a teacher for over 30 years and volunteered at Church, at school, and in the community and continues to do so today!  I have been blessed with many talents and a loving and supportive family and husband, and I feel it is my responsibility to give back to those that helped me succeed as well as mentor the next generation.  I didn’t know that my oath for a “lifetime of service to the nation” would lead me to become a doctor on Navajo, but I took opportunities that were presented to me and said “yes” even when I was uncertain and afraid.  The Army molded me into a leader; my first job ever was as a platoon leader for a 33 person military police platoon.  The lessons I learned there helped me to lead my hospital during the COVID pandemic.  The decisions I make affect life and death, I need to be diligent and prepared.  It’s been a rough couple of years, but I find that service to others is the reward for my sacrifice.  I surround myself with people that push me to be a better doctor, athlete and human.  My friends, both in and out of uniform, prioritize public service and I find energy in their projects and initiatives.  Although I am recognized for my service, I want to emphasize that I get way more out of these endeavors than I give.  I can not overestimate how important the people and places I have served have been to my growth as a human being.

Finally, what attributes should today’s students consider to be successful in today’s classroom?

I think the most important lessons that young people deserve to learn today are about their ability to persevere.  Grit has been an important part of my development and we should challenge kids to develop this quality both in and out of the classroom.  Don’t be afraid of hard work, do the hard thing, even if it scares you.  Work hard, do your best and know that it’s ok to fail.  You will learn something about yourself in the process and maybe even inspire someone you didn’t know was watching.