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Five Students Awarded 2016 USABA Scholarships

Posted August 12, 2016  USABA Updates

Each year, thanks to the generosity of the I C You Foundation and Arthur & Helen Copeland, USABA offers scholarships to members who exhibit exceptional drive in athletic achievement and educational endeavors. We are proud to present the I C You Foundation Valor Achievement Award to three students this year due to additional support from Paralympian Markeith Price’s foundation. We are also proud to present the Arthur E. & Helen Copeland scholarships to one male student and one female student who demonstrate a passion bettering themselves through sport and education. Congratulations to the following students for being awarded USABA scholarships in 2016!

Arthur E. & Helen Copeland Scholarship Winners: Samantha Smolka (Northern Illinois University) and Branden Walton (Santa Rosa Community College)

Samantha Smolka (Hometown, Ill.) is beginning her junior year at Northern Illinois University. She is majoring in Special Education with an emphasis on visual impairments for students 3 to 21 years old. Introduced to sports at a young age, Smolka began volunteering with her local beep baseball team where she learned how much she loved helping others gain self-confidence through achieving their goals. In addition to helping others achieve their athletic aspirations, Smolka has run track, swam and plays goalball. Last year, Smolka started NIU’s first goalball team.  She also serves as a mentor to emerging athletes with Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association.
“Being visually impaired has not held me back from achieving my goal or being the best teacher for the visually impaired. A quote that really describes me is ‘being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional.’”

Branden Walton (Windsor, Calif.) is attending Santa Rosa Community College and aspires to compete for Team USA in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as a track & field athlete. Before track & field, Walton tried soccer and basketball. Though he loved both sports, track & field was the best fit. Walton has refined his abilities since being introduced to track & field events at 7 years old. After earning two gold medals and one silver at the 2011 IBSA World Youth Championships, he attended the London 2012 Paralympic Games with his grandfather where his motivation to compete at his highest ability continued to build. He ran cross-country in middle school and high school and will run on his fourth USABA Marathon National Championships relay team this December in Sacramento.

I C You Foundation Valor Achievement Award Winners: James Debus (Texas Tech University), Ashley Eisenmenger (North Central College) and William Slason (University of California, Berkley)

James Debus (Columbus, Ohio) is pursuing his Master’s degree in Orientation and Mobility at Texas Tech University. Debus has participated in four National Fitness Challenges and has facilitated men’s and women’s goalball teams in Columbus. He also initiated the adaptive sports student organization at Texas Tech.
“I have always felt that the spirit of competition brings out the best in people. When it comes to people with disabilities participating in an athletic contest I always tell sighted and able-bodied spectators to focus on how an event could be modified so that everyone can play. This shift in mindset offers athletes of any ability to experience FLOW at its most inclusive level.”

Ashley Eisenmenger (Tolono, Ill.) is a junior at North Central College. Eisenmenger began running in high school as a way of coping with her vision loss. Her recreational runs ended up leading her to triathlons after graduating. She now competes in triathlon and cycling events as well as half and full marathons. Eisnemenger will run her first Boston Marathon in the spring.
“Sports not only gave me purpose but has created a community where I feel a sense of belonging.  I have found a home in the running and triathlon communities. I’ve also learned that limits only exist when you let them and that they are almost always perceived and not necessarily real.  I’ve grown in not only my athleticism, but also my social, physical, and emotional health.  Sports fully encompass all aspects of a person’s life and that is truly amazing.”

William Slason (Coalinga, Calif.) is a third-year history major at the University of California in Berkeley. Introduced to goalball through USABA Sports Club partner Junior Blind of America, Slason was excited to find a sport where limitations were a thing of the past. For Slason, goalball is a fun way to stay healthy and active and serves as an outlet for stress. He participates in multiple tournaments throughout the year and enjoys the community of people he meets at each tournament.
“Athletics has been my outlet for pent-up energy and a release from the stress of college life. As a resource in which I interact heavily, both socially and competitively, my participation several times a week in goalball has been the one constant in my life that is not a chore and that actually reduces my daily stress.”

Congratulations to all five 2016 USABA scholarship winners! We’re proud of your accomplishments and excited to be part of your athletic and academic journeys.

To learn more about USABA scholarship opportunities, click here.