July 17, 2018
CLEVELAND - As student-athlete development professionals who work with many students from all walks of life on a day-to-day basis, often times we encounter extraordinary stories of individuals overcoming extreme adversities. Although the odds may be stacked against them, these individuals have a drive deep inside them to succeed in the face of overwhelming challenges. It is working with these outstanding young people that makes the job of a student-athlete development professional so rewarding.
In an effort to recognize and celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of these individuals, the National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals (N4A) will highlight one or more student-athletes each month for their determination to achieve success regardless of personal, academic and emotional challenges.
N4A is honored to recognize Dani Burton (UCF) and Jewel Cotton (Central Michigan University) as July's Student-Athletes of the Month.
Burton was born to be an athlete. Unfortunately, her body hasn’t always agreed with her. Burton’s struggles began early in life, when she was diagnosed with asthma. Despite her condition, she got involved in Tae Kwon Do and excelled. However, as she found success in Tae Kwon Do, Burton’s asthma symptoms began to worsen, impacting her lung function. With medication she was able to get her asthma and lung issues under control. As if this struggle wasn’t enough, just before starting high school, Burton fractured her spine and began to have lower back and neck pain. Over the next three years, she suffered through countless doctor visits and was still without a diagnosis. In the interim, she began to compete in rowing in order to strengthen her back. In June 2013, she was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, Hypermobility Syndrome, and hypovolemia. The three ailments affected her spine, joints and blood plasma, and with no cure for any of the diseases, it took a while for doctors to find proper medication. Despite these difficult circumstances, Burton continued to thrive. She managed to stay involved in extracurricular activities like the rowing team, National Honors Society, and an assistant manager of the basketball team. As a current student and collegiate rower at UCF, Burton persistently works hard academically as an engineering major while conducting her research. She is extremely involved in student-athlete development opportunities to prepare for life beyond campus.
May 2017 marked the month that Cotton became the first person in her family to graduate from college. Born into an abusive and financially unstable household, she was the oldest of five children. Cotton always felt the social insecurities of being the “new” student because her family moved so frequently. As a result, she consistently earned mediocre grades, but excelled in basketball, which became her motivation and driving force. Though she found solace on the hardwood, Cotton’s life hit a sudden obstacle. During her senior year of high school, she collapsed during a game of pickup basketball and was ultimately diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. Once she adjusted to the harsh medication, Cotton had a difficult time transitioning into college due to bad decision making and a lack of motivation. She was dismissed from the basketball team because of her actions. After being reinstated, she suffered another setback when she tore her ACL. Mentally, Cotton realized that she needed to plan for her future in order to be an inspiration to her siblings. She began to change her life by becoming a better student and better athlete, and gained the trust of the people that wanted to see her succeed. Cotton surrounded herself with positive individuals and worked diligently to be a shining example for her family.
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 53rd 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.