Jenna Fessler of Thomas More University Named Class of 2019 Honda Inspiration Award Winner

Courtesy of Thomas More University
Courtesy of Thomas More University

Jenna Fessler, a senior volleyball player from Thomas More University, is named the Class of 2019 Honda Inspiration Award winner as announced by Chris Voelz, of The Collegiate Women Sports Awards presented by Honda (CWSA).

Fessler’s inspiring story was highlighted during the CBS Sports Network telecast of Defying the Odds: The 2019 Honda Inspiration Award which aired on Tuesday, June 18, at 8:00 p.m. ET. Along with Fessler, the program highlighted the adversities of the other three Honda Award Inspiration finalists including Kelci Abernethy (Swimming & Diving) from Bryant University, Samantha Bombardiere (Soccer) of Centenary University and Kionna Jeter (Basketball) from Towson University.

For the past 30 years, the Honda Inspiration Award has been given to a deserving female student-athlete in Division I, II or III who has experienced extraordinary physical and/or emotional adversity, injury and/or illness, or experienced extraordinary personal sacrifice during her college enrollment as a student-athlete and yet returns to athletic success. Fessler will be presented with the honor during a live broadcast on CBS Sports Network on Monday, June 24, at 9:00 p.m. ET, in the Founders’ Room at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California in downtown Los Angeles, as part of the two-day Honda Awards event.

Fessler started her volleyball journey with Thomas More University in the Fall of 2014 and quickly established herself as a gifted young athlete. In August of 2016, she became quite ill and was soon diagnosed with West Nile Meningoencephalitis. She struggled with the lengthy illness, was in a coma for a time, and experienced weight loss and significant weakness and unable to return to volleyball that season.

In the Fall of 2017, she amazingly returned to volleyball and played her entire junior season, however, her medical challenges were not over. Right before her senior year, Jenna developed a blood clot in her right arm and was told her condition would require extensive surgery. After Initiating treatment with blood thinning medication, and consulting further with her physicians, Jenna made the decision to delay surgery and play her senior year of volleyball. She started all matches that season, and her honors included ACAA Setter of the Year, First-Team All-Conference, two-time ACAA Player of the Week and an ALL-Great Lakes Honorable Mention.

“No one meets adversity alone nor do they recover and return to competition alone,” said Jean Lenti Ponsetto, Chair of the CWSA Board of Directors. “And thus, when the Board of Directors congratulates Jenna Fessler for being the 2019 Honda Inspiration Award winner, they also congratulate the family, the team and the institution for their devotion and unwavering support. We believe the Inspiration Award is one of our finest honors as it teaches us resilience and highlights the exceptional determination exhibited by these elite student-athletes.”

“Each woman who overcame adversity to return to competition is an inspiration to us,” said CWSA Executive Director Chris Voelz. “However, because of CBS Sports Network, the nation met the four finalists whose courage and bravery in difficult times show us the human spirit at its best. All of them are deserving of our admiration and Jenna Fessler has been selected for the Honda Inspiration Award winner after the biggest victory in her life - not on the volleyball court nor in the classroom, but against a life-threatening disease. We are impressed by her toughness; inspired by her relentless commitment and encouraged by family and team support which all helped her return to competition."

The CWSA, in its 43rd year, honors the nation’s top NCAA women athletes recognizing superior athletic skills, leadership, academic excellence and eagerness to participate in community service.  Since commencing its sponsorship in 1986, Honda has provided more than $3.3 million in institutional grants to the universities of the award winners and nominees to support women’s athletics programs at the institutions. 

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