Fortunato a most-gracious Karpa Award recipient at Baldwin
On June 16, 2012, Baldwin cross country runner Juliana Fortunato of Whitehall was struck by a vehicle while jogging near the intersection of Route 51 and Brownsville Road.
She sustained multiple injuries and her recovery still is ongoing. Along the way, she made a brief, but triumphant return to running, competing in the Lady Highlanders' final cross country meet of the season on Oct. 15.
Fortunato, 18, earned the respect of both her teammates and coaches for her strength and steadfast determination to return to running.
She also recently was honored with Baldwin High School's Karpa Award, presented to a “single letterwinner who displays loyalty, devotion, sense of humor, and a deep concern for others; and offers the greatest overall contribution to Baldwin High School athletics.”
Fortunato said via e-mail, “I was very surprised. I knew that, at the sports banquets, they gave awards to the best male and female athletes, but I did not know about the Karpa Award or what it meant. But once I found out, I was very honored.”
Co-head cross country coach Rich Wright was happy Fortunato received the recognition.
“She was always a good teammate,” he said. “She is a fighter, and she always gave everything of herself.
“She's the kind of person who always went above and beyond.”
Wright recalled that when Fortunato missed making it to the PIAA meet during her junior year, she went to Hershey anyway to support her teammate and friend that had qualified.
According to Wright, Fortunato has had some setbacks that have prevented her from running on a regular basis. But, she still has dreams of running again.
“It's a real frustration for her. It was a big part of her life,” Wright said.
Wright believes it's important to honor students like Fortunato with plaudits like the Karpa Award. He embraces rewarding qualities such as loyalty and a concern for others because they help student-athletes as they prepare for life after high school.
According to Wright, Fortunato's horrific accident helped other students learn valuable lessons. He says the way she fought back from her injuries provided an example of how to overcome adversity.
The Karpa Award was a perfect way to honor her example, he said.
“It showed young people they can overcome any setback,” Wright said.
Wright also was changed by Fortunato.
“She helped me grow as a coach,” he said. “Too many people coach for wins and losses. We don't coach for the right things.”
The veteran coach and longtime running enthusiast said his goals are to motivate each one of his athletes to achieve their personal goals — no matter how big or small.
Fortunato is looking toward the future now. She plans to study physical therapy at Duquesne University.
It's a career she discovered through her own experience; she hopes to help others as she was helped.
But Fortunato also is grateful to her Baldwin teammates and coaches, who have been a great support system for her during a difficult year.
“One of the first ‘get well' messages I received after my accident came from my cross country and track teammates and coaches,” she said. “Their support and encouragement helped fuel my desire to resume running. That, topped with the character building that comes with being involved in athletics, helped me get to where I am today.
“The determination, discipline and friendship that comes with Baldwin athletics cannot be matched.”
Jennifer Goga is a freelance writer.