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N4A Announces 2017 Wilma Rudolph Award Winners

May 10, 2017


CLEVELAND - The National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics (N4A) announced the recipients of its Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Awards. The winners will be recognized during the 2017 N4A Convention Awards Luncheon on Saturday, June 10 at the World Center Marriott Resort in Orlando, Florida. 

“On behalf of the N4A Board of Directors and our membership, I would like to congratulate the five recipients of the 2017 N4A Wilma Rudolph Award,” stated N4A President Kenneth Miles, assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs & executive director for the Cox Communications Academic Center for Student-Athletes at Louisiana State University. “All of the recipients represent the spirit and achievement of Wilma Rudolph through their determination and education. Their profound impact is exponential and a model for all of us. It is with great distinction that we applaud their accomplishments. Wilma Rudolph reminds us that, “Triumph can’t be had without struggle,” and struggle is the first step towards making progress. I know our recipients will continue to think the unthinkable and imagine the unimaginable because they are choosing their destiny.” 

The N4A Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award is intended to honor student-athletes who have overcome great personal, academic, and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics. These young men and women may not be the best athletes or students, and therefore may not have been recognized by other organizations or awards. Nonetheless, they have persevered and made significant personal strides toward success. 

This year’s recipients are Ali Khalid Alshujery, Oregon State University; Amber Brown, Norfolk State University; Kelly Buyaskas, East Stroudsburg University; D’Cota Dixon, University of Wisconsin; and Nicholas Kern, University of California, Los Angeles.

Ali Khalid Alshujery, Oregon State University
Growing up in Iraq, Ali Khalid Alshujery experienced and saw things that no young person should ever have to witness.During an attack by US troops, Alshujery’s life changed with just one bomb – he saw family members go missing, or even tortured or killed. In an effort to escape the unrest in Iraq, Alshujery, his father and others fled to Syria where, despite being safe from the bombs, his family was met with discrimination, hate, and bullying. Thankfully, in 2008 the UN decided Alshujery’s family’s situation was critical and moved them to Portland, Oregon. There, Alshujery met an ESL teacher who told him about wrestling. After initial hesitation, he soon realized he had the talent in the sport. In 2012, Alshujery made the wrestling team at OSU, only to find out he was not cleared academically by the NCAA. As if that wasn’t enough disappointment, just a year later he made the team again and unfortunately tore his ACL in the first tournament of the season. One year after that, he re-tore his ACL again one week before wrestling started. Even with all the adversity he has faced, Alshujery continues to work, practice, rehab, and study and will be graduating in the spring to continue his childhood dream of becoming a doctor. 

Amber Brown, Norfolk State University
In the spring of 2014 at the end of her freshman year at Norfolk State University, Amber Brown went from being a healthy student-athlete and member of the women’s basketball team into a downward spiral of health issues. Following a diagnosis as a Type 1 diabetic, Brown tackled the adversity head on. During the summer of 2014, she attended classes to learn how to manage her diabetes which included insulin injections four times per day and constant monitoring of her sugar levels. Despite the attentiveness to her illness, Brown was found unresponsive in her dorm room on January 1, 2016. Her blood sugar levels had spiked to 1400. She had three strokes, went into cardiac arrest three times, and had seizures continuously for 12 hours along with severe kidney and liver damage. Because of the strokes and seizures, she also had severe damage to her brain, causing her to be placed under a medically induced coma to prevent further damage. After an initial prognosis that Brown would be in a vegetative state and would never walk or talk again, the situation seemed grim. Thankfully, her health eventually improved and she was released from the hospital over one month later after re-learning how to complete day-to-day activities. Brown walked out of the hospital on her own after 40 days, and returned to school  two months later, receiving passing grades in her classes. Although she is unable to resume playing basketball at NSU, Amber remains part of the team, and has attended all home games since leaving the hospital. She is on track to graduate in May 2017. 

Kelly Buyaskas, East Stroudsburg University
From the time she was born, Kelly Buyaskas never had things easy. With a diagnosis of cystic fibrosis (CF) at two months old, her parents were told by doctors she wouldn’t live past middle school. Determined to beat the odds, Buyaskas followed the recommendation of her doctors, and at age 6, began swimming as she was told that it would be beneficial to her body and lungs. Buyaskas continued to swim through high school and was very successful, but was hesitant to continue her swimming career in college. Regardless of apprehension, Buyaskas accepted an offer to compete at East Stroudsburg University, and during her sophomore year, she made the conference tournament. However, shortly thereafter, her health took a turn for the worst. After being hospitalized for three weeks due to a collapsed lung, Buyaskas was released from the hospital just a week before the conference meet, and although she was down 20 pounds from the ordeal, she still competed. Her competitive and determined spirit allowed her to continue to prevail over her illness, a feat which became even more apparent during her junior year. That year, Buyaskas’s heart began to be affected by CF resulting in multiple surgeries, including having part of her liver and her entire gallbladder removed. The side effects of these surgeries also caused double pneumonia and a 106-degree fever, a fatal combination. Although there was a point where she thought she was not going to make it, Kelly was determined to swim during her senior season, and she did, swimming some of her best times with minimal health problems. She will graduate in the spring. 

D’Cota Dixon, University of Wisconsin
Growing up in Miami where poverty was all around him, D’Cota Dixon was exposed to guns, drugs, gangs, and criminal activity as a young child. With four siblings and no father in the picture, Dixon’s family life was never easy. His older brother Daryl, who got involved with the streets to provide food for their family, was arrested and convicted of attempted murder, which as a result strained Dixon’s relationship with his mother. Because of that and the poor conditions in which they were living, Dixon and his brother Dexter were placed in foster care.  Throughout this process, Dixon began building a relationship with his father and his father’s girlfriend, Beth, who were eventually granted legal guardianship of Dixon and Dexter, despite his father’s struggle with drug addiction. When his father’s addiction intensified, Beth decided to move the boys away from their father. Although his father successfully completed rehab and started rebuilding the relationship with his sons, he unfortunately passed away in 2010. While his father’s death greatly affected him, Dixon knew he had to be strong for his family. As if these struggles weren’t enough, Dixon and Beth were evicted from their home his senior year of high school. At that time, Dixon moved into his girlfriend’s house while Beth stayed with a family member. Following graduation, Dixon went on to attend the University of Wisconsin on a football scholarship. With eagerness and anticipation of a great football career ahead, he once again faced adversity head on. During his time playing football, he underwent four surgeries and fought a life-threatening infection that left him unable to walk or move. However, like all things he’d faced before, Dixon bounced back from the infection in time to start in the opening game against LSU. He was named 3rd Team All-Big Ten, made the Dean’s List, and received other academic honors. 

Nicholas Kern, University of California, Los Angeles
2015, Nick Kern’s painful but inspiring story began. A fierce competitor on the baseball field, Kern joined the team at UCLA. Used to battling the opposition on the diamond, Kern unexpectedly found himself engaged in a battle with his own body. After experiencing severe, debilitating abdominal pain, Kern was rushed to the hospital. After visiting with multiple doctors, and undergoing a colonoscopy, Kern was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own colon. After multiple trips to the emergency room, an allergic reaction, and an infection, the only solution for Kern’s condition was surgery.  There was hope that this would be the only surgery and that his condition would improve, so Kern returned to school and baseball. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Once again encountering incapacitating abdominal pain, he was again rushed to the hospital. This time, it was concluded that multiple surgeries would be necessary to try to control the disease, the most intense taking place on January 8, 2016. That day, fearful and uncertain about what would happen, Kern underwent two surgeries in 36 hours to build a “fake colon.” He spent nearly 56 days in the hospital, but seven months later he returned to UCLA and carried on with his life. Though he still endures pain every day, Kern has become a leader on campus and an inspiration to all those he comes in contact with. He is fighting and working hard to get back on the baseball field and will graduate this spring. 

About N4A:  N4A, which has been in existence since 1975, is a diverse educational service and professional non-profit organization. Membership of N4A includes academic support and student services personnel who are committed to enhancing opportunities for academic, athletics and personal success for student-athletes. For more information on N4A, visit www.nfoura.org. N4A is administered by NACDA, now in its 52nd year, administers 17 professional associations, including seven for the separate business units that report directly to the athletics directors. For more information on NACDA, visit www.nacda.com