MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Mixed martial artist Cat Zingano is known for her toughness as a fighter. But she has a soft side as well that comes from being a survivor, not just in the ring but in her personal life. When Cat was in college, her mother was diagnosed with and eventually died of brain cancer. Later, Cat’s husband, who managed her career, took his own life.
Knowing too well how devastating it is to lose someone you love dearly, and how important it is to move forward after such a loss, Cat gives back by awarding a $10,000 scholarship to a student who has experienced the death of a loved one.
This year’s winner of the $10,000 Cat Zingano Overcoming Loss Scholarship is Destiny Wallace, a Birmingham native, graduate of Ramsay IB High School and a current student at Auburn University at Montgomery. As soon as Destiny found the scholarship information online at bold.org, she knew it was the perfect opportunity to share the story of her mother’s death and inspire others to persevere as she has.
To be considered for the scholarship, students had to submit an essay describing how the loss of a close family member or loved one caused them to focus on what matters most in life and what they want to “fight” to achieve.
Though Destiny had a difficult childhood filled with domestic abuse – her father was arrested and jailed for hurting her mother – she says she came from an “amazing, loving family with many great leaders,” including lawyers and judges. She believes she has some of those qualities inside that have led her to this point in life.
Destiny’s mother “had such a beautiful spirit and way about her,” she says. “Every room my mom walked into would just light up, with all eyes on her.” She remembers how much her mom loved to dance and have fun. “She was the go-to person who got everyone together as a family to dance, spend time together, grill and enjoy each other’s company,” she says.
But the light of Destiny’s life was taken away from her when she was a freshman in high school. On Oct. 10, 2016, the unthinkable happened, when her father killed her mother.
As she recounts in her winning essay, Destiny was completely shocked and had no idea how she was going to go on “without the guidance of my mother.” But then, instead of giving up, she wrote: “I turned that anger, trauma, sadness and (other) emotions I felt into dedication and motivation.”
Believing her mother was “looking down on me and watching my every move,” Destiny became determined to make her proud of the way her daughter lived life in her absence.
Living with loving, supportive relatives on her mom’s side of the family, Destiny finished high school and went to college, as her mother always intended for her to do. “No matter what I make of myself in life, my mom would be very proud of me … (and the) many accomplishments I have achieved,” she wrote in her essay.
Another goal was to serve as a role model for her younger brother, an honor roll student who participates in track, football and basketball. “Each day, he continues to become a handsome, intelligent, strong and loving young Black man,” she says.
Now a sophomore majoring in psychology at AUM, she plans to become a psychiatrist so she can “help people who have faced similar – or even worse – situations as mine,” she says. “I really want to help people battle situations that involve losing a loved one due to domestic violence.” She wants them to know, as she wrote in her essay, “that your life doesn’t stop there,” she says. “What happens to you doesn’t define your life, character, spirit and self.”
Destiny is thankful to Cat Zingano for the scholarship, “a dream come true” that will help pay for her college tuition, but also for the “incredible opportunity for me to take initiative, share my story and continue inspiring others to persevere,” she says. “I’ve loved meeting Cat and join her in inspiring and encouraging others who have lost a loved one.”
“I’m extremely humbled and honored to have met Destiny and to be able to help support her on her journey,” says Cat. “She is a bright and driven young woman who is pursuing a future in helping people, taking direction from all the tough times she’s been through. Her strength is remarkable, and I believe she will do great things.”