More than a game

Former IHS standout Kevin Jukes talks of lessons on and off the field. The Class of 1994 grad turned his athletic and academic success into a career in biomechanical engineering.



September 18, 2020 - 4:39 PM

Kevin Jukes with his wife, Dana, son Sean and daughter Stella. Courtesy photo

In the sports world, there are multiple variables out of your control, Kevin Jukes notes.

From the size of the athlete (or the school, for that matter), injuries, or even the weather, the best laid plans often can go awry.

But it’s what a competitor can control — effort, concentration, perseverance —  that often leads to success, even if the scoreboard says otherwise.

Jukes, a standout athlete in track, cross country and basketball from Iola High School’s Class of 1994, has turned his athletic and academic success into a lengthy career in biomechanical engineering.

Now 44, Jukes is director of operations for STERIS Instrument Management Services.

His division focuses on the repair of medical devices, specifically for those used in orthopedic and endoscopy procedures.

Jukes, who lives and works on the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., spoke with the Register’s Tim Stauffer about the foundation sports helped build for him to succeed on and off the field.

His name is among those forever etched in Iola High lore, as a member of the IHS Mustang 1993 state champion track team. 

After high school, Jukes became an All-American track athlete at Pittsburg State University, before hanging up his cleats in order to succeed in the world of medical technology.

After graduating from PSU with a major in biology and minor in chemistry, Jukes earned a second bachelor’s degree through the University of Kansas Medical Center to set himself up to work in hospital laboratories.

He then worked for a year at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., before moving to Beckman Coulter, then onto Leoni Fiber Optics and ultimately to STERIS.


“When I think about sports, there’s an initial understanding that it should be fun,” Jukes said. “That’s one thing that can get lost, for a number of reasons.”

And with that competitive element — they keep score for a reason, he notes — is where sports can help shape bodies and minds, he said.

“Whatever the sport, you’re going to know the objective is to be successful,” Jukes said. “When you know those things, it’s a matter of asking, is this something you’re willing to accomplish, and/or work toward?”

For some, it’s easier than others. Simple genetics may determine who can jump higher, run faster or throw farther.

“I’m of the belief, when you keep that at the core, that it should be about work and discipline — work ethic.”

For those willing to push through, “something rewarding will come out of that,” he said. “It can be a number of things. It may be getting first place, second place or third place; whatever is realistic based on your ability, or your team’s ability.

“But it goes beyond that,” he continued. “What I think it should become is that internal challenge you put on yourself, to where you position yourself to say, ‘You know what, I want to not only to reach my potential but maybe surpass it.’”


Jukes credits the mentors in his life, including Iola High’s legendary track and cross country coach Marv Smith, as helping athletes go beyond what they dream is possible.

“One of his great talents is seeing potential that they maybe didn’t necessarily see in themselves,” Jukes said of Smith. “When you’re able to inspire, teach and lead and then couple that with focus, work ethic, dedication, perseverance — all those things — it ends up being a great result, one way or another.”

“There are a lot of different things we become exposed to, a lot we can draw from, whether it’s our upbringing or our environment,” he said.

Therein lies Jukes’s other essential building blocks to success: learning perspective.

“For me, it’s when you can understand the why, when you understand your purpose as an individual,” Jukes said. “Then, it doesn’t become work. You understand there is a much greater value based on who you are as an individual and what you can contribute.”

It also helped in his development as a youth. As an African-American in a predominantly white community, Jukes enjoyed his time in Iola.

“I was very fortunate to be around good people, period, regardless of background,” he said.

It also aided Jukes in avoiding the label of being “just a good athlete.”

“I realized I was an intelligent person and that I could do just as well in class as anyone else. A lot of it comes back to understanding who you are. Understanding your worth.”

He’s an advocate of seeking mentors as well as being a mentor to others.

“They can help you navigate through these things,” he said. “Sometimes, it creates a level of accountability … just that person you check in with to make sure you’re continuing to stay honest, continuing to stay on that path.”

It’s one of his core principles in his line of work, Jukes said.

“That’s the culture we look to build, so that we’re always continuously improving, finding ‘the true north.’”


“In order to lead people, you have to be amongst the people,” Jukes said. “What I mean, I don’t believe in being a leader that’s disconnected and/or lives in an ivory tower. I believe, morseo, in servant leadership.”

True leaders put others in the right position for them to be successful, he concludes. 

His thoughts turn back to Coach Smith.

“Marv, he’s just one of a kind, great in so many ways,” Jukes said. “I can look back and say I wanted to win and do these things. But a lot of it was, I didn’t want to let Marv down. It wasn’t even about me.”

Just as vital as connecting is holding others accountable. “You don’t let them do whatever. Make sure you’re clear with your expectations, and then you do whatever you can to support them to achieve those expectations.”

JUKES remains an avid sports fan. “I don’t know that my competitive nature has ever left,” he said. “It’s just channeled in different ways.”

Jukes and his wife, Diana, have two children, son Sean, 10, and daughter Stella, 7.

Sean has taken on his father’s love of athletics, Jukes notes.

“It’s all about sports,” he laughed. “Anything, he wants to do it.”

Sean’s current passion? Soccer.

“I stay in the background and just give support,” Jukes said, noting he was largely unfamiliar with the sport until his son became a participant. “Just do what the coach says, give your best effort. Work hard, practice.”

JUKES still returns to southeast Kansas on occasion.

His grandparents, Spencer and Helen Ambler, still live in Iola.

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