TAMPA — Swimming is a vessel of hope for Armwood High senior Caitlen Edwards.
When her father was diagnosed with an incurable disease that affects his immune system in 2012, she channeled her energy into swimming, being a leader, and making her father proud. On a rare day her father could attend a swim meet, she set a personal record.
The summer before his senior year, East Bay football player Vincent Safy spent his nights at his father’s bedside, hoping he would recover from a ruptured aneurism. It was yet another challenge for Safy, who within two years had learned his two youngest brothers were autistic.
Through it all, Safy’s courage was unbreakable, and on the football field, he helped the Indians to their first district title in 40 years and the first playoff win in school history.
On Wednesday night at TPepin’s Hospitality Centre, high school athletes like Edwards and Safy were rewarded for their courage at the second annual Heart of a Champion Scholarship Dinner.
Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Derrick Brooks was in attendance at the dinner, along with former Bucs teammate Simeon Rice, retired baseball star Gary Sheffield and Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
One male and one female student from each of Hillsborough County’s 27 public schools and seven private schools received a $1,000 scholarship to use toward college expenses, donated by local businessman and philanthropist Bob Gries. Each student submitted an application for the scholarship, which included an essay detailing how sports have influenced their lives and the obstacles they have overcome.
“It’s such an honor for me to host this program this night, because these are some of the finest young men and women in the Tampa Bay community,” Gries said. “These are special people, special young men and women that have overcome great adversity and who I think have the characteristics to be great leaders in the future.”
Also honored were Berkeley Prep ice sledge hockey player and Paralympic gold medalist Declan Farmer (Outstanding Achievement), Plant cross country and track coach Roy Harrison (Coaches Award) and Edward DeBartolo (Tampa Bay Community Award).
Melissa Stockwell, a female soldier who lost her left leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq and later became a Paralympian, was the keynote speaker. After being medically retired from the Army in 2005, Stockwell, who was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, started a journey to become a Paralympian, and in 2008, she swam in the Beijing Games. She is also a multiple U.S. national paratriathlon champion.
“Being selected to be one of these recipients for the Heart of a Champion gala, they’ve already proven to their coaches and teammates it’s not always about winning,” Stockwell said. “It’s about the journey to get some place, the teamwork and dedication it takes, and the passion it takes to have a dream and to go for it.”