June 9, 2006

Local High School Scholar-Athlete Who Overcame Rare Disease Named Regional Hispanic Heritage Youth Award Winner in Sports

Award-winning Scholar Athlete Raquel Vallejo wasn’t always good at sports. Indeed, long before she became a sports prodigy of sorts at Our Lady of Peace Academy, this 18-year-old Mexican-Bolivian-American young woman was diagnosed with hyperinsulinemia – a rare and crippling endocrinal disorder, which made her gain weight at an inordinate pace. Worse still, her mother’s lack of English-language skills at the time kept her from fully understanding her doctors’ explanations of why she kept growing larger, literally by the minute.

Yet Raquel’s resilience and will power turned out to be stronger than her disease. So did her courage. Despite the inordinate hardships she experienced growing up, her drive to achieve both in sports and academically have earned her numerous awards and recognitions, among them letters in both Varsity Basketball and Golf, a Scholar-Athlete Award from the San Diego Union-Tribune for outstanding achievements in sports during the 2005 season, and a similar award from her school the very same year.

In recent days, it also has made her the recipient of the regional Hispanic Heritage Youth Award for Sports. The award consists of a gold medal, $3,000 toward her college education and a chance to win the award’s national counterpart, which includes an additional $5,000 grant.

“I am truly honored to receive the Hispanic Heritage Youth Award as recognition of all the years of hard work I have dedicated to athletic competitions,” says Raquel. “Winning this Gold Medal obligates me to commit myself further to my community.”

Raquel believes in living life to the fullest and as such, is looking forward to a career as a bilingual endocrinologist. “It’s the best way I can put my education and heritage to good use,” she says, recalling the hardships both she and her parents experienced with her disease. “When I become a doctor, I will be able to help all those moms or dads who do not speak English. I will help them understand what exactly is going on with their children’s health.”

Her message to other young athletes, who would like to get ahead: “Always remember where you come from and strive to understand others. By playing sports I learned to work well with others – an essential ingredient for success, because in order to accomplish goals one needs support, the ability to communicate with others and to be a team player. There is no ‘I’ in the word team.”

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