Maria Uyoa

Maria Uyoa, recent Shelby High School graduate, will receive the 2020 McGowan Courage Award. The award honors local high school students who have faced life experiences of adversity and hardship with extraordinary courage, tenacity and fortitude. 

This is part four of an eight part series that profiles all students who are recipients of the 2020 McGowan Courage Award, presented by the Mansfield Rotary Club. One story will be released each day for the next eight days.

Chronic diseases, no matter the age, will always be a struggle and hard to manage given the person and the severity of their condition. 

For Maria Uyoa, she shares that pain, however it doesn’t keep her from pressing forward in life and wanting to help others rather than remaining on the receiving end of things. 

Shelby High School is pleased to present Uyoa with the McGowan Courage Award for her positive attitude and the influence she’s had during her time there.

“Maria has taken on all obstacles with a positive attitude and a willingness to fight,” wrote John Gies, Shelby High School principal. “She especially is interested in helping others with their struggles and to be a positive role model.”

Uyoa’s life changed suddenly when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2015, two days before Christmas. 

“At first, when I found out, I didn’t have a reaction really. I just kind of went with it, and it took a few days to actually kick in that I had it,” Uyoa recalled. 

Uyoa’s pancreas cannot produce any insulin; therefore, she has a daily battle with her body to keep her blood sugar levels in check. Since the middle of her eighth grade year she has checked her blood sugar level up to 10 times a day. Stress will cause her blood sugar to spike and become difficult to maintain at a healthy level.

Uyoa must constantly monitor her diet, being careful to count the amounts of carbohydrates and sugars she ingests. While it is important to regularly exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle, exercise can also cause her blood sugar levels to spike. The same activities—eating and exercise—that others need to be healthy can also cause negative effects for Uyoa. 

In September 2019, Uyoa was placed on an insulin pump, which has made her diabetes care more manageable, but she still must balance her diet, exercise and keep up with her studies. If dealing with her own illness wasn't enough, Uyoa’s father, Victor Uyoa, also suffers from an illness and currently sits on the transplant list for a new liver. At times, Uyoa will watch her three younger siblings while her parents go to her father's appointments.

“It was stressful, I know that for sure, just trying to keep my mind together with everything,” Uyoa said. 

While in school, Uyoa still managed to earn a 3.0 GPA and belonged to several clubs and activities throughout her four years at Shelby High School, including: Interact, GOLD, Future Career Leaders of America (FCCLA) and serving as a P.E. aide for gym class. 

Her parents, through their struggle, still noticed Uyoa for her high achievements. 

“Every dad or every mom always wishes the best for their daughter or son, so I always wish the best and I feel very proud that she got that award,” Victor Uyoa said.

With FCCLA, Uyoa became a vocal advocate for students with chronic illnesses. During her senior year, she worked on making life easier for diabetic students by working on a project where she wanted to set up a policy for the school district of Shelby after noticing there weren’t any that would benefit students with chronic illnesses like her. 

“I’m going to try to get that through because I was going to graduate either way. This wasn’t for my benefit, it was more for all the other students,” she said. 

Uyoa needed to have a board meeting with the board of education to present her policy, but with COVID-19 she was unable to, however she still plans on getting it passed. 

“We are proud of what she has accomplished to date and we know that she will continue to have a positive impact in the lives of everyone she is around,” Gies wrote. 

Uyoa will further her studies when she attends OSU Mansfield in the fall and majoring in education to become an elementary school teacher. She became influenced after volunteering at her younger siblings school at St. Mary School in Shelby.

Her father is happy with her choice of a career path so long as it makes her happy, especially given that Uyoa’s mother did not get to have the kind of education that she’s been able to. 

“I always tell her that it’s good to do something that she really likes because it makes no difference,” Victor Uyoa said. “For me, I think that’s the best decision because I think she likes to do that (teaching).

“And I know sometimes people think about money and how much they’re going to make, but I think the best way to choose a career is thinking of what you really want to do, because that way you can have good success in your future, and you’re going to do something you’re going to enjoy.” 

For Uyoa, family and students give her the most courage when it comes to pursuing her dreams.

“Whenever I help people, that always brings up my self esteem,” she said. 

The 2020 McGowan Courage Awards are sponsored by: OhioHealth (premier sponsor), Mechanics Bank (gold sponsor), OSU Mansfield (silver sponsor), Richland Bank, North Central State College, The Mansfield Art Center and The Renaissance Theatre.

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Thrive Reporter

Tierra Thomas is the Thrive Reporter. She was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio and graduated from Kent State University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications. When she's not writing news, she's writing fiction or taking photos.