Nov. 5, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
“Don’t let this stop you.”
That’s what Maya Evans’ father, Stacey, told her while the two were on a run together when she was 10 years old. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, Evans, now a junior middle distance runner on South Carolina’s track and field team, was suffering from an asthma attack, but she kept going. That relentless spirit not only carries over into her athletics career, but also to her academics as an honor roll student and her dedication to community service for which she led all Gamecock student-athletes with 313 service hours last year.
“I had no idea how many hours I had done,” Evans said. “People always ask me what I do for myself because I’m always so busy, but that is what I do for myself. I volunteer. I feel like it’s good to take a step back from your own life and just help others that are in need. It’s important for me to volunteer on a weekly basis, and if I don’t, I feel like I’m too consumed in my own life.”
The Wilson, North Carolina, native is a member of the Honors College at South Carolina and has been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll after each of her first two years on campus. Time management is critical for student-athletes in juggling classes and athletics commitments, and Evans has a full plate studying public health with minors in counseling and Spanish. She has also been involved in educating youngsters through the United Way and assisting the homeless at Transitions in Columbia.
“Last year I was tutoring with the United Way, and one of the students I had wouldn’t really communicate with other people,” Evans said. “But he would always talk to me, so it just felt good to put a smile on his face. Working with the homeless populations and seeing that they were happy to just have a meal was incredible. I remember one guy; we fed him a meal and he didn’t take any silverware and started eating with his fingers. So we gave him silverware, and he almost started crying because he was not used to having anything to eat his food with.”
This commitment was nothing new for Evans, who had spent a lot of time volunteering at the Wesley Shelter for several summers before college back home in North Carolina. She became interested as her mother, Lisa, had been volunteering at the shelter as well.
“It’s for people that were in abusive situations and the majority of them are either African-American or Hispanic,” Evans said. “I started there in the eighth grade. I would baby sit anywhere between 10-25 children of the Hispanic mothers who were there learning English. That really had an impact on me. I grew up in a good home, and had never been around anyone who had been abused.”
Despite not understanding Spanish initially, she lived through her father’s words and didn’t let that stop her. The experience encouraged her to learn Spanish, so she began taking courses and has studied the language ever since. She returned to work at the shelter each summer through high school as well as after her first year of college.
“I’ve seen the impact I can have by tutoring the kids, or just speaking with their moms,” Evans said. “They enjoy having someone they can trust around their children. I never thought I would enjoy it so much or want to learn another language. I don’t do this just to get service hours or build a resume. I just see a need, and I want to be there to help.”
Whatever I choose, as long as I make an impact on other people; that will be my main motivation.
Evans spent last summer at Temple University in Philadelphia to do public health research to further her studies, but her coursework also allowed her to give back.
“We would go out into Hispanic communities and talk to them about what they know about health care,” Evans said. “We found there was a great disconnect among some members of that population who may have not understood all of the medical terms doctors were explaining to them.”
Getting enough sleep has been among her biggest challenges, and that’s not simply because of her busy schedule. Her asthma affected her ever since that long jog with her father.
“That was when I decided that I wasn’t going to let the breathing stop me from running,” Evans recalled. “When I went to the doctor after that, I was told I had exercise-induced asthma. I still tried to do cross country when I got to middle school, but it got really bad because I also have really bad allergies. I still ran with my dad.”
Evans used a daily inhaler in high school and utilized a rescue inhaler after practices and meets.
“I would need it after every race in high school,” Evans said. “It got really bad. Then when I came to college, I realized I needed to get this under control. I don’t want it to hold me back. My first two years, I never thought I could reach my full potential. I could be in great shape, but when it came to race time, I couldn’t get air in. So of course, that affects your whole body. So after every race, I was gasping for air.”
One of South Carolina’s athletics trainers suggested a visit to an ear, nose and throat specialist where she learned that her oversized tonsils were not only the cause of some of the exercise and breathing related problems, but were also causing sleep apnea.
“The doctor said my tonsils were so big, they were sort of suffocating me,” Evans said. “They discovered I had sleep apnea. I was wondering why I thought I would get good sleep, but I’d wake up and still feel tired.”
Evans was running in a cross country meet this fall when she had trouble breathing, so she thought back to her dad’s advice.
“Don’t let this stop you,” Evans repeated. “I heard his voice in my head. So I got my tonsils out three weeks ago, and I feel amazing. I feel like this is a new opportunity for me. It’s a new start. I’m recovering faster. I’m sleeping better. I still have issues breathing, but it’s by no means as difficult as it was. I’m just really excited for the track season now.”
With an eye on the future, Evans foresees a career path that incorporates public health and counseling in a high school setting.
“I feel like God has taken me somewhere to help others through my abilities,” Evans said. “Whatever I choose, as long as I make an impact on other people; that will be my main motivation.”
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