Jason Albers pictured wearing a green cap, white button up shirt and jeans, leaning against a wall with graphic signs and looking beyond the camera

Jason Albers (Health Professions ’17) is the drummer for Flatland Cavalary.

I Belong

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Strapping his hands to drumsticks, Jason Albers (Health Professions ’17) played not only into the hearts of others but also into finding comfort in his own skin.
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By Alessandra Singh

a da bum bum. Ba da bum bum. Jason Albers’ (Health Professions ’17) mom finally had enough of her 15-year-old’s incessant tapping at every countertop, pot or pan within his reach. The solution, she figured, get the boy a drum set — but only on one condition – he played when she wasn’t home, Albers recounts with a laugh.

For some, a drum is merely its definition – a percussion instrument sounded when struck with sticks or the hands. To others, it’s just a great addition to their favorite music. Then there’s Albers, where drums brought a sense of belonging for a little boy who came to realize that he is different than his peers.

“We’re just born like this.
We’re different.”

Mark Albers

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close up of Jason Albers performing drums on a stage wearing sunglasses, a green cap, a graphic t-shirt and jeans
Albers was born with a genetic anomaly called tetramelic monodactyly – a rare genetic condition characterized by the presence of a single digit on both hands and feet. According to the National Institutes of Health National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, it’s a condition that fewer than 1,000 people in the United States have. Three generations of the Albers family account for five of the 1,000 — Jason, his father, his older sister and her two children. So, Albers didn’t feel different until he grew older and began to notice that not everyone looked like him. “Wait a second, the kids down the street don’t have this?” he recounts.

Life for Albers felt like he had to walk with a disclaimer ready to address the elephant in the room. From a young age, he learned to discern social cues watching as his dad responded by initiating the conversation during family public outings. “Hi, how you doing? I see you notice our hands …” or “We’re just born like this. We’re different.”

“The social interactions were probably the hardest because you have to take control of the awkward,” Albers says. In junior high, when the family moved from Seminole, Texas, to Midland, Texas, there was a new kid in town — literally and psychologically.

“I felt like I can strap these drumsticks to my hands and keep a beat, people find it entertaining. So, I think that was the beginning of me kind of accepting who I was.”

“There’s a difference between someone who’s different and someone who’s disabled … Disability, to me, is a mindset.”

Jason Albers (Health Professions ’17)

“I finally felt comfortable in my own skin, and I was able just to kind of bloom into who I’m supposed to be from that moment,” he says.

That’s also when Albers met Cleto Cordero, and they began to play music together with a couple of other friends. Albers and Cordero’s friendship — and their music — continued into high school, with them making appearances at parties with a pre-planned scheme to have Cordero perform.

The scheming continued into college as the two went to Texas Tech University together where they met the rest of the band that would become Flatland Cavalry. While in Lubbock, Texas, the band recorded in a local studio, Amusement Park Recording Studio, performed at a local bar called The Blue Light Live and began to travel to small towns around the state to perform on the weekends — all while being full-time college students.

Jason Albers (far left) picture with his five bandmates, each wearing a different colored flannel shirt as they stand shoulder to shoulder on a road against the sun setting behind a high hill in the background
“I finally felt comfortable in my own skin, and I was able just to kind of bloom into who I’m supposed to be from that moment.”
Jason Albers (Health Professions ’17)
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Albers was an occupational therapy student at TTUHSC during this time. He described how they’d “drive from Lubbock to Houston for an hour show and then drive all the way back to Lubbock to take a final and then drive to Dallas.” There was even a point he had to sign a paper stating that he would be a better student, he laughs as he thinks back.

His mind was in two places, he says, but pursuing a degree in occupational therapy was a no-brainer. His interest in the field peaked as a kid who grew up attending occupational therapy through high school. It was in the time between high school and college that Albers realized that he was good at something other than playing the drums; he was good at making people feel good just by hanging out with them. Encouraging the kids in the corner with their hands in their pockets was his strong suit, possibly because Albers was one of those kids.

“I found all my strength was with being able just to empower and just really get people’s mind off anxiety and just connect in a human way,” he says. And that’s when it clicked – “That sounds pretty much like what an OT does.”

Albers wanted to help give life back to people, and “OTs specialize in the human experience and help discover why we want to live.” For the brief time he practiced in Florida, Albers’ condition gave him the ability to understand his patients’ struggles. “I kind of know what it feels like to not be able to open up the twisty tie on the freaking loaf of bread.” This gave him that initial rapport with patients as they would see him and feel like he wasn’t totally unaware of what was going on.

“Jason was always able to provide a unique perspective and viewpoint regarding OT,” Dawndra Sechrist, OTR, PhD, dean of the School of Health Professions, says. Albers is able to see multiple viewpoints in the therapy relationship, which makes him an effective occupational therapist, Sechrist continues.

Albers completed OT school, passing the board exam with flying colors, despite living the band lifestyle, oftentimes barely making it back in time for class on Monday. The impact he saw that he could make as an OT, Albers realized, he can also make with music. “Hey, I can do this, I can really do this.”

3/4ths back view of Jason Albers performing the drums at a concert under the purple and green stage lights
His music career is taking off. Flatland Cavalry is gaining the national stage, performing in stadium tours with Billboard’s No. 2 top country artist Luke Combs and writing and recording a song for season five of the popular TV series, “Yellowstone,” like some others such as Billboard’s No. 3 top country artist Chris Stapleton, Ryan Bigham, Whiskey Myers and Midland.

Although not a practicing OT, Albers utilizes his degree as a drummer at this level using the “therapeutic use of self” concept – a plan to use someone’s personality insights, perceptions and judgments as part of the therapeutic process — or what Albers calls from his studies, an OT’s “secret weapon.”

He’s found this as a useful practice in keeping the peace at times, Albers laughs as he says, “12 dudes on a bus for a couple of months, you don’t think I’m using some cognitive behavioral theory and Socratic questioning.”

The psychology he learned in class has definitely kept a couple of fights from happening along the road, he jokes. On the other hand, “(he) thinks about (his) therapeutic use of self toward someone coming out to a show, someone buying a ticket to a show and telling a story about how this song made them feel a certain way.”

Multiple lessons can be taken from Albers’ life, such as making no excuses. “There’s a difference between someone who’s different and someone who’s disabled … Disability, to me, is a mindset,” he says. He is here for people, and his goal is to inspire self-doubters, and the platform he’s been given to do so has left him grateful for everything that’s ever come his way.

That’s the thing about Albers, the way he conducts himself with no excuses, his hands won’t be the first thing you notice, said his bandmates. Instead, it’s his humor, his heart, his ability to roll with the punches, his work ethic, his welcoming personality and even his smile. At least that’s what his bandmates see in him.

“No one else is like Jason,” says Jonathan Saenz, bass player for Flatland Cavalry. Perhaps the biggest lesson to take from Albers’ life is the only thing stopping you from doing anything is yourself, and to the band “that’s it.”