The St. Louis Surge is a professional women’s basketball team that plays at the Washington University Field House during the summer months.

“The Surge recruits character first without sacrificing talent,” St. Louis Surge Owner and General Manager Khalia Collier said in a previous article. “All Surge players know that it’s not just about how many points you can score or how many rebounds; we’re looking for the overall package and cultural fit within our organization.”

Collier and team member Jaleesa Butler are childhood friends. “We’ve grown up with the ball in our hands, competing in different camps and tournaments, so it was only right that she bring me onto her team,” Butler says. “I was living in [Washington], D.C., at that point in time, and I can recall her contacting me multiple times about the team. … Once I stepped in the gym, I was hooked. The rest is history.”

Butler, who is going on her fifth year with the Surge, grew up in North City and attended Vashon High School, where she was on the basketball team, so she has played in front of the city before, but to be a professional player on a bigger stage gives her a great feeling.

“I’ve played on big stages in college and overseas, but nothing compares to being able to play in front of the people who supported you from day one,” Butler says. “To see my family taking over one full section of the stands, to hear my mom [yelling] at the refs and [my] friends telling me to ball out makes me feel like a star. [My family never misses] a home game.”

Butler says the Surge is the top women’s program not only in St Louis, but also in the entire league. “We set the standard for sports professionalism, as well as women’s sports,” she says. “St. Louis has not seen a women’s program of this caliber before, and we are eager to keep it up. We’ve gone to the drawing board and revamped.”

Although Butler watches game film on the teams the Surge plays against, she explains, the most important preparation to perform at a high level is ensuring her body is in the right shape. “A lot of players can play very well, but once they become tired, they don’t offer much to the game,” she says. “Making sure my body is in top shape allows me to play at a high level all the time.”

In an effort to ensure her body is in top shape, Butler began a journey about eight months ago to become a vegetarian, which stemmed from educating herself on “what we actually put in our bodies.”

“To find out that more than half of the things you’re eating aren’t really real or packed with chemicals definitely made me take a step back,” she says. “[I found] out the National Health Association — the same people [who] made up the Food Pyramid — label processed meats as a No. 1 carcinogen.”

Another No. 1 carcinogen is tobacco, she continues. “So you mean to tell me eating processed meats is [as harmful] as smoking cigarettes? That was mind-blowing to me,” she says. “I made this decision to better my body and mind, [and] I’ve seen so many positive results. I have so much more energy, and I never really ‘crash.’ My mind and thought processes are much clearer, [and] I never feel groggy anymore. You know that feeling after you eat hot wings and then you just want to [lie] down? I never feel like this anymore. Coming to understand that food is nothing but fuel for our bodies helped a lot.”

Butler is working toward becoming a vegan, but she says she hasn’t fully crossed the threshold just yet. “I’ve cut out tons of things,” she says. “Maintaining a vegetarian diet took a lot of research, but veganism is on a whole other level. I’m still educating myself on the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, but the day will come that I will go 100 percent vegan.”

To ensure her body is fueled with the proper nutrients, Butler usually starts her day with a fruit and veggie smoothie. “I’m a big snacker, [so] I like to pack little veggie packs and fruit packs for easy retrieval throughout the day or else the snack becomes chips and candy,” she explains. “I also incorporate at least one big salad a day. Like I said, I’m not 100 percent educated on vegan [diets] so I follow many Facebook groups and online sites that give me different recipes, so I try those out a lot.”

It is this positive change in health that Butler believes will help propel her to a successful 2018 season. “I’m very excited about this year — not only because the team will be better, but because of the new turn I’ve taken with my health,” she says.

Be sure to visit stlsurgebasketball.com for more information about the upcoming season. M