Joseph Desjardins’ world was turned upside down when lost his beloved aunt, Rhonda Andre, last year.
Andre was a security guard at Arizona College Prep. But more than that, she was one of Desjardins’ biggest supporters. She would routinely watch him play football, cross country and track and field at Dobson High School. Not having her there this year was difficult, but he used the loss as motivation to continue trying to excel both on the field and in the classroom.
He knows that’s what she would’ve wanted. So, he made it happen.
“It was always fun to think about how maybe I can still honor her and do good things,” Desjardins said. “Be the athlete and persons she saw in me.”
Desjardins’ grief helped to make him a perfect candidate for the Arizona Breaking Barriers Student Athlete Scholarship, which is awarded through the Desert Financial Foundation and Arizona Cardinals. Its aim is to aid student athletes who have demonstrated resilience in their lives.
He was one of 14 high school students chosen for the scholarship. He received $3,000 and a backpack with an iPad, iPad case, AirPods and school supplies. He plans to use everything he received, as well as the Lumberjack Scholarship, when he studies astrophysics at Northern Arizona University in the fall.
He said the money will be used for anything from room and board to food while he is studying. He said it eases some stress he had for the next step in his academic career.
“When I heard I received it, it was really surprising and really cool. I felt honored to be a part of that,” Desjardins said. “Being around all of those great student athletes, it was a cool opportunity to see all the other people that are like me who want to do great things.”
Like Desjardins, Anthony Garcia’s world shattered when he was 12 after his mother passed away from brain tumors.
She meant everything to him. He felt lost and angry, but he knew she always wanted him to be successful. That’s when he found wrestling and realized it was his true calling and what he needed to gain the motivation needed to make his mom proud. It wasn’t an easy road, but he made it and ended his career this past winter as a state placer.
“When I lost my mom, it left a hole in my heart. Wrestling helped fill it, which is why I took it so seriously,” Garcia said. “She would’ve wanted me to do really well and be a big man. It would mean a lot to her to know now I am a state placer and I’m going to college.
“She would be proud of me because I lived up to her hopes.”
Garcia’s bout with sadness stemming from his mom’s death was just one piece of the adversity he has faced in his life.
While wrestling, he broke his elbow twice — the first required surgery — and had two minor knee surgeries.
He applied for several other scholarships as well and received most of them. He plans to use them to help pay for his classes at Arizona State, where he plans to study engineering.
Garcia said it’s a way for him to make his mom proud.
“All the scholarships will help me pursue the goal my mom wanted, being that big man, going to college and getting a good job for myself,” Garcia said. “All these scholarships will help me go to college. I want to be that person she wanted me to be.”
Along with Garcia, four other East Valley student athletes were named recipients of the scholarship.
Higley senior tennis player Madeline Martin, who is also part of the National Honor Society, received the scholarship along with Williams Field senior Brianna Rowe, who plays softball for the Black Hawks and is student body president.
Like Desjardins and Garcia, Peyton Martin has dealt with several bouts with adversity during her time at Desert Vista.
Her mother, Kim, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021 and has since fought it to enter remission. Last spring, Martin was running a race for the Thunder track team when she felt pain in her knee – a nagging issue from when she was younger.
A few days later at a specialist, she was told she wouldn’t be able to run her senior year.
“That kinda took away the biggest thing in my life,” Martin said. “I was still chosen to be team captain despite not being able to run which proved to me I showed my teammates what it takes to be a leader.”
Martin was diagnosed with patellofemoral pain syndrome, which is a result of the anatomy of her body and tracking of her knee cap.
Even when she couldn’t run, she still showed up for her team.
She was present for every 5:30 a.m. practice and didn’t leave until the last runner on the team finished. She plans to do the same this spring for the track team.
Like Desjardins, she applied for the scholarship though Desert Financial and shared her story. She was pleased to learn she was awarded the $3,000.
“For me, I have a fear of failure and put a lot of pressure on myself,” Martin said. “I feel like I don’t always give myself enough credit for all the hard work I put in.”
Martin aims to study communications at the University of Arizona next year. She applied to be in the school’s honors college with her 4.0 GPA. She aims to hopefully venture into sports media while at Arizona, as she currently serves as the sports editor for the Desert Vista yearbook.
Like others given the scholarship, she knows it’ll make a positive impact on her college education.
“For me, it was a good motivator and made me take a step back and feel like I was finally getting recognized for that hard work,” Martin said. “It meant a lot.”
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