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www.wmfd.com - The 46th annual Mansfield Rotary Club's McGowan Courage Awards were presented Tuesday. }}" />

Nine Students Receive Rotary McGowan Courage Awards
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Story By: Greg Heindel



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  Originally Published on: 5/7/2013

The 46th annual Mansfield Rotary Club's McGowan Courage Awards were presented Tuesday. Nine Richland County high school were honored for overcoming severe adversity in their lives, some with physical ailments and others with personal or family difficulties. Family, friends, and community leaders packed a banquet room at the Holiday Inn to see young people who are living well and making a contribution, against all odds. The honorees are Elizabeth Paige Manns of Madison Comprehensive High School, Nicholas "Nick" Moyer of Ontario High School, Caleb Carsey of Clear Fork High School, Samantha "Sami" Stoner of Lexington High School, Marshall Garber of Crestview High School, Shanika Westerfield of Mansfield Senior High School, Robert "Bobby" Cowen of Saint Peter's High School, Matt Baer of Mansfield Christian School, and Jeffrey "Jay" Baldridge of Lucas High School. Each McGowen Courage Award winner receives $900 from the Rotary Foundation, plus a $100 savings account from Richland Bank. They can use the money as they wish, but it's recommended to be used for college. These are the complete bio's of each student: Mansfield Senior High School Shanika Westerfield: Shanika was only 15 when her father passed away making is very difficult for her starting a new high school being one of three children to a single mom struggling to make ends meet. But Shanika did not let the difficulties at home show as she continued to take on her daily duties at school. She showed her traits as a leader with humility, hard work, task completion, pride in learning and standing up for what is right.   Shanika knows that most people make certain assumptions about those who grow up in single parent homes or the inner-city. Her upbringing taught her to respect (rather that be rowdy), appreciate (not feel entitled), and to take pride in herself, her family, her community and her school.   She has shown tremendous growth and development in the area of Cosmetology performing very well in the State Cosmetology Competitions two years in a row earning her school a second place award in Avant Gard Fashion Hair Design. Shanika carries a 3.0+ grade point average, a member of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, The W.I.A. program and the youth NAACP, volunteering many hours to these community activities.     Madison Comprehensive High School Elizabeth Paige Manns: In 2004, when she was nine years old, Paige’s parents were divorced. She started having trouble academically and needed additional assistance with her schoolwork. At the age of 15 Paige’s grandfather, to who she was very close and like a father to her, was diagnosed with lung cancer. She took some time away from school to help care for him before he passed away.   One year later, at the age of 16, Paige’s father died suddenly. Even during her time of grief and mourning, she excelled in high school as a result of her determination and work ethic, and from the teaching staff at Madison.   In 2012, when Paige turned 17, her mother died of breast cancer. During her mother’s illness Paige was working on the State Tested Nurse Assistant Curriculum and while she cared for her mother she was able to practice the nursing skills she learned at school.   After working hard to overcome personal tragedy, she didn’t give up and finally passed her state nursing tests. Paige has obtained a position as an STNA at Oak Grove Care Center where her employer gives her excellent reviews. She is also enrolling in the Dental Assistant Program a Madison Adult Education Career Center.         Lexington High School Samantha (Sami) Stoner: Sami runs cross country and running is her passion. However, this passion was nearly lost to her when her vision began to drastically change in the 8th grade. She later discovered that she had Stargardt disease, a juvenile form of macular degeneration that causes the loss of control of central vision, resulting in legal blindness. Rather than give up, Sami chose to find a way to run cross country, anyway.   Initially, Sami used a companion runner to compete on the school team. Her companion graduated and Sami’s eyesight worsened. She feared that her running had come to an end. She would not be deterred. However, through the help of Pilot Dogs, Sami was teamed with at Golden Retriever named Chloe and began to learn to run with a guide dog. Though the OHSAA initially would not allow her to run with Chloe, she and the school persisted until she was finally granted the opportunity to compete at what she loves.   Sami’s triumph over her disease and the OHSAA thrust her into the national spotlight. She has handled her fame with grace and humility and to the benefit of others. Sami tutors elementary students with visual impairments. She has participated in motivational speaking and become a leader in the Key Club and National Honor Society raising money for students with sight problems within her school. She became an ambassador for her school community, her sport of Cross Country, and pilot dog program. She has earned many awards including the 2011 Top Volunteer Award, the CAP Award, and was named as AOL’s Teen Who Changed the World in 2011.     Clear Fork High School Caleb Carsey: Caleb has had to overcome learning disabilities and associated other personal challenges while attending school, and was a concern to his mother, teachers and school administration. Caleb made a decision to turn his life around when he became interested in being on the wrestling team. While he was academically ineligible to join the team as a freshman he was allowed to practice with the team. He worked hard in practice and in the classroom and gained his eligibility before the end of the season and was able to wrestle in the final meet of the year.   The following year, Caleb studied hard in the classroom, overcame his learning problems and maintained passing grades and began setting goals for his future and for self-improvement. When he returned to school in the fall of that year he had lost 50 pounds, an achievement that was impressive.   From the beginning of his sophomore year, Caleb continued making strides in the classroom and in athletics. His third quarter grade point average was 3.5, he earned a varsity letter in wrestling and joined the baseball team, accomplishments that no one would have expected of him just two years prior. He is a positive role model to his classmates as he mentors other students with special needs.         Ontario High School Nicholas (Nick) Moyer:   In the fall of 2011 Nick’s mother lost her lengthy battle with cancer. Nick managed the loss of his mother with a dignity and grace unusual for a 17 year old. He exhibited the ability to read the emotions of the people around him and make them feel comfortable as he handled the passing of his mom.   Even though his family suffered greatly at the loss of his mother, Nick has remained a solid student and is known for his kindness and the unselfish way he treats others. His inner strength and courage has allowed him to take difficult assignments and one teacher describe him as quite a risk taker. He is a member of the National Honor Society.   In addition to his home responsibilities, not normally expected of a teenager, Nick is a four year member of the Marching and Concert Bands, Track and Cross Country Teams. He has excellent problem solving skills which are qualities that will be useful in his chosen career as and Engineer. He plans to attend The Ohio State University, Mansfield Campus.   Crestview High School Marshall Garber: The troubles began for Marshall in the fall of 2010. During Thanksgiving break he began experiencing some serious back pain that would lead him to the emergency room where an x-ray revealed a tumor growing around his lower spine. Emergency surgery took 12 hours to remove the baseball sized tumor which was not life threatening, but the surgery left Marshall paralyzed from the waist down. His high school dreams and plans were shattered and even thought his time had come.   Marshall missed the majority of his sophomore year recovering from his surgery and learning to use the wheel chair for his legs. He returned to school and became an active member of the student body at many sporting events cheering on his classmates and school with a positive attitude. He enrolled in woodworking class even with the challenges of working with the tools in a wheel chair. He mastered the use of all the shop tools including the jointer, radial arm saw, belt sander, table saw and lathe, making pens and other woodworking projects.   Marshall has been known to climb out of his wheel chair during lunch time to do 20 push-ups in front of the military recruiter for a tee-shirt. He passed his driver’s test and drives himself to school every day. He place 2nd in his division in 2012 at the Marathon in Baltimore using a specially made bicycle. His fellow students see Marshall as a young man with a good heart, caring, and willing to try anything and an inspiration. He likes to go fishing and is planning on a skiing trip this year.   St. Peter’s High School Robert (Bobby) Cowen: Bobby was born with congenital scoliosis and had to have major surgery to fuse his spine when he was only three and a half years old. He has endured years of follow-up doctor’s appointments and physical therapy. Because of his medical issues, his childhood was different from that of some other kids but he grew up loving sports, especially football, a contact sport that he was told he could never play. So Bobby decided to play golf and basketball and he got very good at both, playing on the school team. He is a natural leader as captain of the teams inspiring many to overcome adversity in a big way.   Bobby is a serious student, a friend to all, a devoted son, and a lot of laughs. He is good at many things but he is quick to be humble at his talents. His teachers use words like genuine, motivated, and organized to describe him.     Mansfield Christian School Matt Baer: Matt has spina bifida which causes him to walk with a noticeable limp. He never complains about is condition nor has he ever asked for special consideration from his school where he must navigate long flights of stairs several times a day for his classes; even though it causes him discomfort, he is almost never late for class.   His condition has not stopped him from being an active participant in student life. He plays the viola in front of his peers as part of chapel of a musical concert. He plays with a passion that originated from the courage he has silently displayed from overcoming his disability, showing this courage as he walks with a limp in front of the audience to take his place on the stage. He does all this with no desire for pity; he just wants to be treated as anyone else. Matt shares that he was the target of teasing and ridicule at a previous school. He expressed recently in a testimony about the welcoming attitude he has found at his new school and how much it has meant to him.     Lucas High School Jeffrey (Jay) Baldridge: At age 5, Jay was diagnosed with asthma. In each of the following years, he experienced continued difficulties with school due to poor attendance from asthma attacks and several bouts with pneumonia. After experiencing some pain from an unknown source when he was 9, Jay was sent to Akron Children’s Hospital where he was diagnosed with Legg Calve Perthes Disease (LCPDP) a rare disease of the hip where bone death interrupts blood flow. Jay was had to undergo a hip osteotomy in an effort to curb the deterioration of his hips. In 2004 he underwent surgery to cut the femoral bone and reposition it with plates and screws; he spent the next eight weeks at home in a body cast and wheel chair.   Jay returned to school in April 2005, but when he went to his first baseball practice, his femur snapped resulting in a return to Akron Children’s for a repeat of his first surgery. He then spent the remainder of 4th grade in a wheel chair or on crutches and for the most of his 5th grade year he received his education at home through tutoring.   Jay has encountered numerous other obstacles along the way, breaking his foot, a broken nose, another broken foot, tendonitis of the knees, severely sprained ankles, knee injuries, shoulder injury, and appendicitis. While he appears to be a normal high school student one would never imagine what he has had to endure.   In spite of all his adversity, he remains a friendly, polite and has a positive personality. He is a four-year letterman in basketball and baseball and is active in Big Brother’s / Big Sister’s Program, the Spanish Club, the FCCLA, and is active in his church youth group.    
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