November 01, 2016

Celebration of Unexpected Champions: An Earl Woods Scholar’s journey

Last month, at the Tiger Woods Foundation’s “Celebration of Unexpected Champions,” we not only celebrated the work we’ve done over the years, but more importantly, we welcomed to the stage three inspiring Earl Woods Scholars to share their stories of grit and perseverance. They are the reason we do what we do. In today’s post, you’ll read D.C. native and Syracuse University graduate Stephanie Navarrete’s moving speech about the many obstacles she faced and overcame throughout her time at college.

Good evening and welcome to the Tiger Woods Foundation’s 20th anniversary Celebration of Unexpected Champions. Thank you for being here tonight in support of all the work the foundation does on behalf of thousands of underserved students across the U.S. My name is Stephanie Navarrete and, like the faces you just saw in the video, I too am an Unexpected Champion. 

It would be easy for me to stand here on this stage tonight and simply tell you how much the Tiger Woods Foundation has done for me. How they’ve supported me and helped me rise above my obstacles. They’ve done all this and more. And I don’t know where I’d be without them. But my story isn’t complete unless you know what my family and I have endured. I’m not sharing my story for sympathy, but rather to paint a picture of how easy it is for someone like me, someone who grew up with little money and even less opportunities, to be derailed. When you are surrounded by gangs and drugs and crime, like I was, it’s so hard to find that right path, let alone walk it. Tonight, I’m here to remind everyone that life doesn’t always go as planned. Mine sure didn’t.   

I remember it so clearly — the moment my life began to fall off the rails. It was my sophomore year at Syracuse University, and I was excitedly walking to class, preparing to ace my weekly anatomy quiz, when Mami called with news that took the wind out of me. In between sobs she told me my younger brother had been arrested, and the arraignment was tomorrow. Mind you, I’m six hours away from home, the amount of snow that fell is at my kneecaps, and I just dropped a $200 anatomy book in the snow and can’t bring myself to pick it up because I am crying and hyperventilating at the news. 

You see, my brother, who was 16 years old at the time, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Dealing with my brother’s arrest, supporting my family and managing my workload at school was one of the hardest things I have ever dealt with. I was scared and overwhelmed. I struggled a lot and suffered emotionally and academically. There were times where I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it through school, and truthfully, I probably would not have if it wasn’t for the support of my Earl Woods Scholar mentor, Debbie Nolan, and the Tiger Woods Foundation.

But ultimately though, I made it through. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in health and exercise science, and I am determined to get my doctorate in physical therapy. And along the way, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I’ve carried with me every day. I’ve learned that things don’t always go as planned. I’ve learned the importance of staying focused and moving forward. And, most importantly, I’ve learned that I am stronger than I gave myself credit for. I am an Unexpected Champion. 

Champions of the unexpected for 20 years.