FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona University Athletics Department strives to not only prepare their student-athletes on the field of competition but also in the classroom and life after sports. Northern Arizona prepares its student-athletes to go out in the real world, make an impact on society as Lumberjacks.
Alana D'Onofrio played soccer for Northern Arizona from 2010-13 and was last year's captain for the Lumberjacks. D'Onofrio was also the recipient of the True Blue Award at last year's first annual Louie's for her spirit and enthusiasm for NAU. D'Onofrio has carried that spirit she developed in Flagstaff and shared it among people all throughout the world. From Sept. 4 - Oct. 6, D'Onofrio spent time in Kable, Uganda in Africa working at the KIHEFO Clinic where she able to help assist doctors, nurses and their staff. D'Onofrio reached out to the NAU Center for International Education to take a look at the Study Abroad Programs available.
"To go to Africa and spend time in a country that most Americans do not visit was amazing," said D'Onofrio. "To experience a brand new culture and see how people live with very little money yet they continue to love life is amazing. I wanted to make a difference in their lives by treating them, interact with them and they inspired me to live a better life."
Throughout D'Onofrio's research on places that peaked her interest, the former First Team All-Big Sky selection found a clinic in Uganda, where D'Onofrio always had an interest in visiting and helping out somewhere in Africa. D'Onofrio received interest from a clinic in Kable, which is in Southwest Uganda, two hours away from the border of Rwanda and different from any city in the United States. One road not fully paved ran through the city filled with markets and shops surrounded by rolling green hills. It is a very poor city with houses on top of hills and if you do not live in a house, you live in a shack made up of mud and bamboo sticks.
"It was very rewarding being able to work with the staff and doctors from Uganda," said D'Onofrio. "They love what they do even though they make a small amount of money. Seeing people suffer because they do not have the money inspired me to do more and go back in the future to help out as much as I can."
D'Onofrio stayed at the clinic, where she worked that was built by the doctor of the clinic where he was able to build apartments for his volunteers. A dining area and security was provided for D'Onofrio and the other volunteers at the clinic providing the best experience possible. D'Onofrio would tend to pregnant women during ultrasounds and also animals as well.
"The experience and knowledge I received in Kable was amazing," said D'Onofrio. "I was able to interact with patients, perform blood tests, assist with ultrasound scans, perform BMI's (Body Mass Index's) and we would also travel to villages for people who cannot get to the main town because they do not have a car or a bike. I am so happy for the knowledge I gained about diseases and the relationships I was able to establish."
D'Onofrio graduated with a degree in biomedical science, was a four-time Big Sky All-Academic selection and a four-time Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete award recipient finishing with a 3.32 GPA. All the tools that were provided at Northern Arizona, D'Onofrio took those tools and used them all the way across the world to make an impact on society.
"Alana embodies characteristics that make her an outstanding representative of NAU Athletics and our alumni," said Senior Associate Athletics Director Tanya Vogel. "As an athletics administrator, it is such a privilege to work with college level student-athletes who are developing and becoming positive contributors locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Alana had a dream to go to Uganda to learn, stretch and make an impact. She made that happen and we are so very proud of her."
Not only was D'Onofrio a leader for the Lumberjacks while wearing the Blue & Gold but she has also been a leader of making a difference in the world and using her degree to the best of her ability.
"As a soccer program we focus on three components," said head soccer coach Andre Luciano. "There is the soccer part where I try to develop these players as much as possible, there is the academic component where our student-athletes invest the most time in and there is the character aspect of our student-athletes. The goal for our athletes is to not only represent Northern Arizona University on the field but also to do well academically so they can go on in their lives and this university does a great job of allowing our student-athletes to figure out who they want to be."
D'Onofrio reached out to her former head coach at NAU, where Luciano had to fill out a series of recommendations, surveys and questionnaires to see if this was the best fit for the former soccer captain.
"This was such a natural fit for Alana," said Luciano. "I knew she could handle being abroad and deal with living in a completely different culture. She has a great passion for medicine and wanting to help out others and she will be the first one to tell you that the classes she took at NAU prepared her for this trip."
Due to D'Onofrio's willingness to give back to others and the classes she took in Flagstaff, the 2014 NAU graduate went out and made a difference in the world.
"NAU helped me out so much during the process," said D'Onofrio. "I received letters of recommendation from Andre & Tanya and after their words of encouragement they even inspired me more to go."
D'Onofrio is back in her hometown of Pleasanton, Calif. far from Kable, Uganda but the knowledge she has gained in Africa will be vital in her future endeavors in America. D'Onofrio plans to visit the village in the future and continues to help the doctors and staff in any shape possible for the United States. D'Onofrio is just one of many examples that Lumberjacks are leaving Flagstaff and making a difference in the world.