May 1, 2013
STORRS, Conn. - The Kinsman Award is traditionally the highest honor from CPIA for National Student Athlete Day. It is given each year to a student-athlete who is a true model Husky. The student-athlete recognized with this award has been exceptional in the classroom, in the playing arena, and in the community whether to their immediate peers, or around the globe. This year CPIA celebrates two honorees, Dana Hughes and Dwayne Gratz.
When Dana Hughes committed to the UConn Softball program as a high school student from western Pennsylvania, we knew we would be bettered as a department and University from her involvement. She was an incredibly driven student at a young age, and an extremely skilled athlete. We predicted those things would carry over into her time as a Husky. We had no idea exactly how.
In January of 2009, when Dana was a senior in high school, she was a passenger in a fatal car accident which claimed the life of the driver -her best friend. Dana was given a minimal chance of survival. Despite the odds, Dana not only survived, but graduated high school, attended UCONN that fall, and has excelled ever since.
Dana battled aphasia, numerous limitations with her mobility, significant memory loss and several other setbacks that carried into her career as a student-athlete.
Much to her dismay, she was never medically cleared to participate in competition due to spinal cord injuries suffered in the accident. Dana did not let that stop her and has served as a student-assistant coach for her four years, working as a bullpen catcher, and training with the team in workouts. Dana is just as committed as any other student-athlete on our campus. She works just as hard on the field, training facilities, and certainly in the classroom.
In Dana's first semester, her CPIA counselor had several concerns about her ability to be successful. Her cognitive functioning, impulse control and social development had been impacted. While her midterm grade reports were above average, we were unsure how she would fare with the rigor of final exams. Dana finished that semester on the Athletic Director's Honor Roll and was well on her way to being on the Big East Conference All Academic Team. When her CPIA counselor wrote to her over winter break congratulating her on her performance, Dana was absolutely irate. She was disappointed in herself, mad at her counselor for thinking that was successful, and determined to do better in the future. Given less than a year had elapsed since she was in a coma, we were impressed by her work. Little did we know what was coming.
As a result of her personal experience, Dana found a passion for our Communication Disorders major. Since her first semester, she has earned Dean's List honors four times, has been on the Athletic Director's Honor Roll every semester, has been on the Big East All Academic Team each year, and has been on the NFCA All Academic Team each year. She currently maintains a perfect 4.0 in each course in her major. Dana has taken tremendous initiative getting involved with volunteer organizations and internship opportunities including shadowing professionals in the field, and being a leader in the student group for future speech pathologists. She has maintained the same athletic schedule as her teammates including all team travel responsibilities over the academic year.
It is rare to have a student who has been forced to overcome such tremendous obstacles. Dana has never once complained, never shown her frustration to her peers, never accepted less than her best for herself. Dana's pursuit of obtaining a graduate degree has been unwavering since taking Intro to Communication Disorders in the spring semester of her freshman year and she has recently accepted an offer of admission from the University of Pittsburgh where she will pursue her master's degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders, focusing on Speech-language Pathology.
Head Coach, Karen Mullins once said "the energy, spirit and determination that Dana brings to our program are irreplaceable. She is a dynamic young lady and a true inspiration to us all." This could not be more accurate. Dana has consistently been one of the most committed student-athletes we've met. She has been diligent to give her best efforts academically, personally, and professionally. We are truly honored to have her represent our institution, to celebrate her with the 2013 Kinsman Award, and are excited to follow her career. Congratulations, Dana!
Dwayne Gratz: Dwayne Gratz came to the university in 2008. In the beginning it was a rough road to adjust and begin living up to expectations that others had for him. Dwayne did not really have the understanding of what he was capable of when he first arrived.
He has had his share of adversities and challenges during his four and a half years at the university. The personal struggles along with academic expectations pushed him to surpass even what he believed he could accomplish. Dwayne is a young man that entered a new world with more expectations and support than he could imagine.
Although he was away from home he was still partially responsible for the care and success of his younger brothers and sisters as well as helping his mother who was unable to work due to a medical condition. This strain and pressure often got to Dwayne. Many instances involved talking him into staying at the university and discussing his options if he stayed or left.
Each time Dwayne decided he wanted to be a Husky, he came back from semester break stronger and more determined to do the best he could for himself and his family. He had many obstacles to overcome to find his true self and his path to success. He was determined to be a positive role model for his younger brothers and sisters and show them hard work pays off and they can be successful. As he matured Dwayne was able to see who he wanted to be and began accomplishing more in the classroom and on the field. This pride showed through as he completed his degree in Sociology and has now been drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He owes his great success to his own perseverance and willingness to continually strive to be better as an individual and a member of the community. Congratulations to 2013 Kinsman Award winner, Dwayne Gratz, and best of luck in your professional career!