Austin Wortley -
2012 Kevin Higgins College
Scholarship Grant Recipient
San Diego, CA (December 5, 2012) - Two-time cancer survivor and Vanderbilt University freshman Austin Wortley can be an inspiration to us all. There were endless possibilities for Austin at the start of his junior year at Harriton High School of Lower Merion in Rosemont, PA. He was about to undertake the challenging rigors of the International Baccalaureate program at school as well as attempting to excel at rugby, football, wrestling and track, all while serving on Harriton’s Student Council.
That outlook changed dramatically when Austin was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last December. As Austin puts it, “In a mere moment, I seemed to lose everything: my hopes of playing sports; my normal social life; my ability to fully engage with school. Almost immediately, I was thrust into my chemotherapy and the disconnect with my former life seemed expansive. However, I clung to a quote that a fellow cancer survivor gave me: 'Tough times don’t last, tough people do.' I attempted to maintain some semblance of normality through the whole ordeal, struggling to be social and studying whenever I could. It took every ounce of strength that I could muster to continue forward, but I had high hopes for my future.”
Austin began playing rugby for the Narbeth Rugby Football Club in 2008 as one of two eighth graders playing at the U19 level. His passion and skill for the game was evident early on and he soon became one of the best and most respected players on his team. He caught the eye of Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union Select Side Gregory Mininger while a freshman and in his sophomore year led the EPRU to the Potomac Challenge Cup, the major high school rugby all-star showcase on the east coast.
Looking forward to continuing his rugby prowess his junior year, Austin’s world was rocked by the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis. But Austin stayed positive throughout the whole ordeal and was back at training just a few hours after his doctors said he could resume playing. And just two months after his last chemotherapy treatment Austin was selected once again for the Eastern Pennsylvania Select Side. The EPRU didn’t defend their title but Austin would establish himself as more than just an inspiration to his teammates but as a leader and truly elite level rugby player.
This past year his cancer was back and unfortunately, this time the process took more from him as more chemo treatments followed in addition to a stem cell transplant and home-bound isolation. In total the treatments lasted his entire school year. But without blinking an eye, Austin beat the cancer again, spending his rugby off season in the weight room in order to prepare for the spring season. He did not lose a step and was back in full force ready to play.
Club rugby commitments kept him from representing the EPRU again this year but Coach Mininger summed up his association with Austin this way. “Austin is one of the most talented and inspirational players that I have had the honor of being around during my 15 years in the sport of rugby. His toughness on the field is only outweighed by his toughness off it and though they don’t know it yet and probably won’t for some time, he is the first flesh and blood hero that most of his teammates have met.”
In addition to excelling on the rugby pitch, Austin starred on the Harriton wrestling team for four years, was captain his senior year and won the Diamond in the Rough Award; played on the football team from 2009-2011 and won the Officer Setzer Award; was on the track team in 2010. He was also a competitive sailor from 2009-2011.
Austin graduated from Harriton with a 3.6 GPA was a member of the National Honor Society his junior and senior years. He was the Student Council’s Sergeant at Arms in 2011 and was a Student Council Committee member his senior year.
Austin also gave back to his community by raising $5,000 for Relay 4 Life; twice worked on the Mr. Harriton Contest, which raised a combined $18,000 which benefitted the Children’s Hospital King of Prussia Oncology Unit and Bone Marrow Transplant Unit; worked on the LLS Man of the Year Campaign which raised $25,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; and served on the Harriton Service League for four years working on annual food drives. To top it off, Austin is also a Boy Scout Life Member.
He is fitting in well at Vanderbilt. He has filled in out of position in the front row due to injuries and his coach Jim Snell said even out of his preferred position, he is a very good player. While at Vandy, Austin is studying economics and mathematics. His career path is uncertain at this point but one thing is for certain, he’ll live each day to the fullest. “I find myself echoing the words of Warren Zevon, a musical artist who died of cancer: 'enjoy every sandwich.' I am grateful for things that others take for granted. And that makes me even more grateful for the outlook I now possess and the opportunity to be alive to have it.”
Congratulations Austin on being named a 2012 Kevin Higgins College Scholarship recipient.
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