submitted by Alyssa Leto (Aug 2015)

Alyssa –Running Her Own Future

Winner of VBF’s 2015 Frank Catalanotto Perseverance Scholarship

The term cerebral cavernous hemangioma is not one a 6 year old usually knows.   I learned those three words in kindergarten, and although it was a cool game to see who could say it right among my friends, I knew the real meaning behind these big words. As the third generation of women in my family to be diagnosed with this vascular anomaly, I have learned quite a bit more than the pronunciation.

My first hemorrhage was at age 6. Even as my own journey begins there, having a genetic form of a hemangioma means that it doesn’t end there.  My family’s story includes many hemorrhages, several trips to the E.R. and a major brain surgery with a life changing result for my grandmother. Even though she is no longer with us, as she passed away from breast cancer shortly before my first trip to the emergency room, it was her courage and strength that was there with me that night, and every day since.

It’s almost a good thing that I learned what a Cerebral Cavernous Hemangioma was at such a young age because it has not held me back in any way. It has actually defined me for the better.  Both in and out of the classroom, my diagnosis has pushed me to defy what the average person thinks about someone with a hemangioma. As a student, I made honor roll student every semester of my high school career.  I have taken many AP classes, and I graduated with a 96.34 GPA.  I was a member of five honor societies.

In addition, I am equally proud of my accomplishments outside of the classroom.  My running career began in second grade. Despite recently discovering that I would carry on the almighty hemangioma gene from my mother’s side of the family, I knew I was destined to be a runner. I found myself training harder and wanting more as I grew up and continued running.  My hemangioma has not, and certainly will not, stop me from achieving my many goals.  With support from my family, coaches, friends and teammates, I have pushed myself to become the person I am today.

Tenacity was my grandmother’s strongest trait.  I find myself thinking of her often, realizing that our diagnosis may be defining, but it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. It’s our job to make the best of it and use it as inspiration.  “Heart and Hustle”–these are the qualities that made Mr. Catalanotto the great athlete, father and public figure he is today.  They are the same qualities I will continue to build my future on.

I am excited to be attending Brown University this upcoming fall and this next chapter of my life.  My intended major is Math with a minor in Sign Language.  I am planning on pursuing a Masters degree to earn a teaching degree.  I look forward to motivating my new team to show their own heart and hustle, as I will be running both winter and spring track there. I am also hoping to teach my new friends not only how to pronounce cerebral cavernous hemangioma, but to show what it’s really about and how they can help, too.

Thank you to the team at VBF for presenting me with this scholarship. I am honored to be chosen and will certainly think of you during my adventures at Brown.