USF student reaches new heights through her religion

 

With Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States, all eyes have been on the Catholic Church, and while many people view him as the champion of social change, critics argue that when it comes to the role of women within the church they still have a long way to go.

One University of South Florida student is challenging these views by becoming the youngest female acolyte within the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Ashlie O’Brien didn’t grow up in a religious family.

“Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be an alter server, but my parents were never very involved in the church so I wasn’t given that ministry opportunity,” O’Brien said.

Upon attending college, O’Brien decided to take matters into her own hands and began serving at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Temple Terrace. Within one year she had become the highest level of alter server within the church, a feat that takes many individuals years to accomplish.

“It all started with a single daily mass which is just one alter server doing the steps, wine, bible….things like that,” O’Brien said. “Then it turned into adoration, weddings, funerals and I just kept working my way up.”

Her passion for serving is continuing to push her to open more doors for women within the Catholic religion. For O’Brien, alter serving is something she wants to do “every day.”

Students Escape Stress at USF Botanical Gardens

Located just steps from some of the most popular spots on the University of South Florida campus lies a hidden gem, the USF Botanical Gardens.

From whimsical plant displays and breathtaking views of the water to educational facilities, the gardens have been offering a wide variety of services to USF students for over three decades.

The gardens were established in 1969 and were used primarily as a research and education facility. Throughout the 1970’s the biology department was the only educational group to conduct research within the gardens.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980’s that the area was expanded, incorporating the palm garden, wetland forest and many of the other displays seen today. During this expansion period university staff aimed to create an area that all students could use. Garden Director Laurie Walker says that today almost every college utilizes the space.

“We have classes from the college of fine arts, arts and sciences and engineering,” Walker said.

However, as the gates opened to the public in the 1990’s the gardens shifted to incorporate aspects of relaxation and recreation.

“We also have picnic tables, benches, beautiful places to sit and relax and study or have lunch drawing in the public for a unique look at Florida’s natural beauty,” Walker said.

University of South Florida sophomore Mack Galdames says it is the perfect place for him to take a break from the stress of school work.

“I usually come out here by the lake and sometimes just stare or I’ll read a book or play guitar,” Galdames said. “It’s just a wonderful peaceful place. It’s isolated and it’s not isolated, it’s got a balance to it.”

Wheels are rolling in Tampa

The 22nd Annual Tampa Am skating competition dropped into the Skate Park of Tampa, drawing out hundreds of people to watch young skaters prove themselves in the world of extreme sports.

The event takes place over three days, with two qualifying rounds and finals. The winner advances on to compete in Street League, a nationally broadcast skateboarding event that opens doors to sponsorship opportunities and professional skating careers.

“It’s kind of like an art, making my mind create things I like to do,” competitor Miles McKenny says about skating. “Seeing me progress is another good thing.”

This is something McKenny hopes he can pass down to future generations of skaters, saying that his favorite thing to do is help younger skaters work on their tricks.

There was a sense of community throughout the entire three-day event, and as the pool of competitors became smaller and smaller, the crowd became bigger and bigger. The sense of community is what keeps a lot of skaters going.

“You walk around and everyone has the same feeling as you,” Daniel Toss said. “It’s a good group of people and something fun to do.”

 

Chiari supporters walk for cure

 

 

Bay area residents flocked to Al Lopez Park Saturday to raise awareness for Chiari, a disease largely unrecognized by the medical community.

Conquer Chiari Walk Across America took place at over 85 locations across the country and raised a combined total of $750,000. 80 percent of the funds raised at the walk will be used to fund research.

“Every year I get the calls from people who have never had the chance to meet someone else with Chiari,” said Serenity Harper, the organizer of this year’s walk. “It’s a parent struggling with making a decision to have surgery for their child and this is a great outlet and time for them to talk to other parents or talk to another person with Chiari and feel like they are not alone.”

Harper said Chiari malformation has become a much bigger part of her life than she ever anticipated.

“I was diagnosed in 2002 and unfortunately both of my biological children also have Chiari,” said Harper.

Local walker, Kimmy Smith, was diagnosed last year. Smith said while Chiari may not be well known, it is estimated the disease affects 300,000 people in the U.S.

“It is a disorder, a defect neurologically where your brain is,” said Smith. “Unfortunately, (your brain) a little too big for your skull and it herniates out and presses on the spinal cord. It can block your CSF fluid and just causes pain, headaches, imbalance and it can have a big negative effect on your life.”

Smith and her family members participated in their first walk to raise money for Chiari research, but for the individuals affected by the disease, the sense of community is the biggest reward.

“Unless you’ve gone through something like this, it’s kind of hard to comprehend something like chronic pain,” said Smith. “So to just be surrounded by everybody just makes me really happy to know that there is just so much love and support for the community.”

Though perhaps no one knows the depths of the Chiari community like veteran walker Brittney Clark, whose team of 60 people raised over $3,000 this year. Clark has undergone four surgeries for Chiari, suffering a stroke in the last one. She is the epitome of the nickname “Chiari Warriors” given to survivors of the disease.

“I am out here at the walk every year trying to raise awareness,” said Clark. “To be able to come out and meet others with the disease, it was just amazing to not feel alone after all the years and to see others who have experienced the same things as me…it’s just priceless.”