Iustin McCarthy-Contreras, majoring in Business, is a LatPro Scholarship Finalist

[U]ntil the night of December 11th, my life was going in one direction. Academics, athletics and social life were things I didn’t have to really work at. Maybe I was taking life’s course up until then for granted. In the fall of 2011, I studied in Guatemala with the University of Arizona. I enjoyed learning about the culture and Latin American philosophy – embracing and appreciating the world around me. After the semester culminated, I traveled to Ometepe, Nicaragua, with friends I made while in Antigua. On a fateful night, I was offered a motorcycle ride to where I was staying on the island. A head-on collision with a drunk motorcyclist took the life of the person who offered me the ride and my life took another direction from that second on. 

I was on a remote island in a developing country. There was no water ambulance, no ground ambulance and no medical help. It took nearly eleven hours before I made it to a Managua hospital. I had suffered a traumatic brain injury and the orthopedic injuries I sustained required a series of blood transfusions. I spent a week in a coma.

Finally, I was medically evacuated to Tucson, Arizona. The obstacles before me became daunting and (I’ve been told) impossible. As I emerged from unconsciousness, I couldn’t swallow, speak or understand simple commands. I had survived, but at what price? I recall spending a period of time depressed and disillusioned at what I had lost. At one point, doctors told my mother that I would need assisted living and that I would never be independent. I know she was devastated to learn that I may never return to school. The future looked bleak, at least temporarily.

Through intense therapy and the support of my mother, sister, friends and community, I was determined to regain what the accident claimed. I also began to focus on the positive. I realized, even while my brain was healing, that there must be a lesson to learn from the hardships of the last eight months of recovery. My experiences were life-changing. With a new found philosophy, I became determined to overcome deficits left by the accident but also help and inspire others to do the same.

I have returned to the University of Arizona and will apply to Eller Business School after spring semester. My career path changed after witnessing the struggle, creative and hardworking people in Guatemala experience to gain minute business success. My goal is to graduate with an International Business degree. Identifying ways to empower small Central American businesses and develop sustainable work environments while bridging international barriers supports my new course and direction in earning my college degree. I was fortunate to be given a second chance on life and my dream to graduate and make positive contributions is stronger than ever.’s scholarship program is proud to announce Iustin McCarthy-Contreras as one of the finalists for its December 2012 application deadline. Vote for his essay (Facebook ‘Like’ and other social media sharing options in left column), click the ‘star’ just above comments section below, and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.

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  • I studied with Justin in Guatemala. Not only is he a caring, intelligent, and adventurous individual, but he has taught me the meaning of courage and strength during trying times. I am certain that, if given this scholarship, Justin will achieve much more than what he has outlined in this essay. You are an inspiration, Justin!

  • Justin does the impossible every day and has been doing it daily for over a year since his accident. His friends and family will attest to his character. He Will achieve his goals and richly deserves the assistance this scholarship would bring.

  • Justin and I were Youth Ambassadors to Israel in 2008. On our journey I discovered how charismatic, caring and wonderful a person he is. I am in awe of what he has overcome, and strength of his will. His friends and family are all more then willing to speak to his admirable character, but I believe that his goals speak for themselves. Justin seeks to improve the world, and I believe it would benefit us all to offer Justin the tools he needs to do so.

  • Justin and I went to high school together, while we were not close, I knew he was a dedicated student an friend. When I learned the news of his accident, I was devastated. Through praying for him and watching his growth through social media, he inspired not only me, but many others. The other day I saw Justin at the gym, I realized that he has so much drive in his life. Justin will go far in his studies, he just needs the tools to do so.

  • I’ve known Justin since high school when he and our friends would go free running at parks and schools. We were a bunch of noobs, but he was always patient and positive and has always been an excellent friend. When we first heard news of the accident we were shocked to hear that something like that could happen to one of our close friends.

    I remember visiting him in the hospital and how devastating it was to see him in his debilitated condition and just not knowing if we would ever see the Justin we used to know again. But his recovery has been incredible; the dedication and strength it must have taken to get back up on his feet and reboot his life so positively is truly a testament to his character.

    I really can’t think of a person more deserving of scholastic assistance, because he has demonstrated dedication and steadfast willpower far better than most of us would in a lifetime.

  • Yo conocí a Justin por poco tiempo en Guatemala pero en ese tiempo pude darme cuenta de que es una gran persona y que sabe lo que quiere, y se que el va conseguir esta beca porque es muy inteligente y además esta aprovechando la segunda oportunidad que le dio la vida…!! He will Decerve it!!! Eres increíble Justin!! 🙂

  • Good Luck Justin, It is clear from Jessica’s posts on Facebook that your family and community has fully supported and loved you through all your hard work…This scholarship will assist you in helping others and giving others the second chance you were blessed with. This scholarship would serve those goals well.

  • Justin, I’m so happy for all of the obstacles you have conquered. You’re a pretty rad guy and you more than deserve this scholarship. You and your loved ones have gone through so much this past year and it amazes me how far you have come. You’re a tough cookie! Stay strong xoxox

  • Your experience has taught us to appreciate all things and to love even more those we hold dear. But most of all you have reminded us that the shortest path through our troubles is facing them square on. Good luck with your future plans!

  • It is such an important thing to have a purpose in life. Knowing what that porpose is gives you the motivation to accomplish great things. I would love to see Justin get the opportunity to do that.

  • Justin was energetic and caring before his accident. But over the last year, he has shown a strength that few have and has not lost his caring attitude and his zest for life. I know he will go far in what ever he chooses to do and is very deserving of this opportunity.

  • Justin would be a wise choice for this scholarship. It will make a difference for him, and he will definitely use it to make a difference in the lives of others. The strength and resilience he has shown this past year has already been an inspiration for many people. He is such a thoughtful kind person with a quiet yet palpable inner strength that you know will take him far.

  • Justin, you never cease to amaze me! You are smart, caring, tough, and i know you are gonna do even more great things in your future. You are more than deserving of this scholarship. Keep fighting! You’re one tough cookie.

  • I had the wonderful opportunity to get to know Iustin while he visited us at Study Abroad CIRMA, he was part of an amazing group that has touched me in so many different ways. He worked hard all the time in Guate, at class and as an intern at an afterschool youth program, he was always happy and he knew and knows where he wants to go, he has many goals, and going to business school has been a major one… I think that life is giving him that opportunity, he deserves the world. I’ve been following his achievements after the accident and he amazes me all the time, sweetie you are as we say in Guate “un ejemplo a seguir”. You’ve come so far, and Im sure you will continue pursuing your dreams

  • I had never admired someone younger than myself so much, until I got to know Justin.

    Over four years my Junior, Justin is one of the most dedicated scholars and athletes I have ever met. As one of Justins’ training buddies, his wise and welcoming personality helped inspire me to achieve for myself, in hopes that one day I would one day be as skilled as Justin is in gymnastic technique. He reinforced my faith in humanity through unrelenting kindness, and willingness to assist his peers along their own journeys. His unwavering positivity was always a beacon of motivation for myself and my fellow aspiring athletes during physical training. It is this same quality that I am sure is helping him make such a wonderful recovery.

    I know in my heart that he deserves a scholarship because of his unparallelled dedication to his self improvement, both physically and mentally.

    Investing in Justins’ future is a great choice, not only because he always delivers great results, but because of the great compassion for other human beings that he brings to the table. He truly has a heart of gold.

  • I had never admired someone younger than myself so much, until I got to know Justin.

    Over four years my Junior, Justin is one of the most dedicated scholars and athletes I have ever met. As one of Justins’ training buddies, his wise and welcoming personality helped inspire me to achieve for myself, in hopes that one day I would one day be as skilled as Justin is in
    gymnastic technique. He reinforced my faith in humanity through unrelenting kindness, and willingness to assist his peers along their
    own journeys. His unwavering positivity was always a beacon of motivation for myself and my fellow aspiring athletes during physical
    training. It is this same quality that I am sure is helping him make such a wonderful recovery.

    I know in my heart that he deserves a scholarship because of his unparallelled dedication to his self improvement, both physically and mentally.

    Investing in Justins’ future is a great choice, not only because he always delivers great results, but because of the great compassion for other human beings that he brings to the table. He truly has a heart of gold.

  • Justin is a smart and articulate individual. He deserves to get this scholarship to be able to give back to others in his community and abroad.

  • Justin,
    I visited you at UMC when you were still in a comma and I have watched you recover. it has been amazing to see you progress and see you blossom. You have worked so hard and your determination to return to your life before the accident is incredible. You have inspired so many people by your efforts and your perseverance. You are such bright and dedicated young man I know you will be a huge success no matter what goals you set for yourself. Congratulations!
    patrice white

  • Those of us who prayed for Justin through the “bleak” period were just so happy that we hadn’t lost him. To see what aspirations he has wrought through conquering tragedy in his life is simply staggering and so very gratifying. There’s a lesson for the rest of us in there too.

  • However success is measured it requires hard work and the right attitude. Justin already possessed a genuine desire to help others. He was passionate about the kids he coached at Gymnastics World and dedicated to their success. After the near-fatal accident in Nicaragua last December those same attributes and tools needed for his future endeavors had already been put into action. In business chances and risks have to be taken. Justin took a risk by returning to the University of Arizona only seven months after suffering a severe traumatic brain injury. His courage, determination, perserverance and discipline throughout intense rehabilitation are only part of his recovery story. He works hard and doesn’t give up. His tenacious energy and diligence have allowed him to attack each challenge before him (insurmountable number of challenges/obstacles at times). Justin demonstrates a contagious desire to improve and progress and continues to provide daily examples of why he deserves this scholarship and how he will put his education to use in carrying out his goals.

  • Justin has always had a special affinity to Latin America.During his semester abroad in Guatemala, his passion to serve and strengthen Latin American communities and help alleviate the inequalities among them was re-energized. This has never been so strong a purpose than after the near fatal
    accident that Justin sustained. His impressive accomplishments after suffering a traumatic brain injury that left him unconscious for nearly a month demonstrate his unwavering dedication for self-improvement. Spending long weeks at the hospitals and rehab centers, I observed Justin’s strong will through his recovery process. When he began to awaken from his coma, it was evident that
    Justin was looking ahead, eager to return to the life he once had. When asked where the first place he wanted to go when he was discharged, Justin replied “back to the U of A”.

    I witnessed the devastation to Justin’s spirits when he was told about the potential deficits resulting from his brain injury. This scholarship would not only support Justin’s goals in business and Latin American studies but it would empower Justin to realize he doesn’t have to be a victim of his accident and is capable of achieving the goals he sets for himself.

  • This young man is an amazing fighter. I first met Iustin on that little remote island – in the health center where he was taken to be transferred by wooden boat off to the mainland. I am a naturopathic doctor and had been working on this island when I received a desperate phone call from my sister-in-law that there had been an accident and I should come. I got out of bed and rushed to the scene of the accident Just had already been taken to the health center. I accompanied Iustin on that dreadfully long 12 hour trip to get him to a hospital in Managua. By boat, by truck, by ambulance – I held his hand, I talked to him even though he was unconscious and told him to fight – that everyone in his world loved him. When I saw this post I was shocked and moved to write to tell you – believe in this young man – he will do amazing things. That he has recovered to now be applying for a business scholarship is truly a miracle. Thank you Iustin for being such an inspiration to us all – and for now finding your path to help others be empowered!

  • I ‘am proud to say that Justin is a very good friend and foremost considerate to others. I have been in association with Justin since he was a newborn and many times my wife was very fortunate to babysit this caring child.

    Justin is a brilliant student, all throughout his years of studying his diligence and hard work has always been appreciated. He has always shown the highest motivation in all activities and has demonstrated his hidden talents in fields like gymnastics and inter-personal communications, especially relating to Business.

    His accident in Nicaragua did not deter him to excel in his recovery nor did the downturns that he faced force Justin to quit his studies. However, showing his determination for his studies, he has worked very hard to maintain a level of proficiency to his entire task, whether be school, work or his family and friends. He has also been taking time in helping others to cope and
    understand traumatic injuries.

    Justin has been a studious student and I feel he will do complete justice to the scholarship and honorably represent what it means.

    I sincerely recommend Mr. Justin McCarthy-Contreras for the LatPro Scholarship Award

  • Justin- What an incredible essay. I was with him on the night of the accident and I can’t even begin to tell you firsthand what a survivor he is. There were moments where I thought he would never come back to us the way we knew him. I , among other, was clearly proven wrong. I remember the days visiting you in the hospital wishing that I could just speak to you again. I am so happy and proud to see how far you have come. You will always have my support. Justin is extremely deserving of this scholarship and deserves it more than anybody I know.

  • I was lucky to meet Justin during our time studying abroad in Guatemala. We lived in the same homestay and during that time I came to know Justin as a kind, thoughtful and caring person. I remember one time we were hiking down this extremely wet muddy trail and I slipped about 5 times. However, Justin was behind me and caught me (nearly) every time. I think this is a great allegory for how Justin is as a person. It is not always noticeable, but he is always there, willing to lend a hand. I saw him engross local Guatemalan kids with his gymnastics classes that he gave at an after school center for children. Hearing about the accident was shocking and tragic and I remember checking his website daily for months afterwards to see how he was coming along.

    Justin has proved his strength with how far he has come. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of a scholarship. He truly is an inspiration to all, and I cannot express my thanks that a person who I came to know well has been able to overcome so much.

  • What an impressive young man. To face such adversity and work so very hard to overcome it shows true strength of character. I have seen so many young people in similar positions become bitter and despondent; to see a young man determined to make a difference in the world when it involves following a difficult path is truly encouraging and heart-warming!

  • I have never met Justin, but I only heard amazing wonderful stories from the other students that studied abroad in Guatemala with him.

  • Bravo Justin! I am so inspired that you have been able to work your way back to health and recovery. What a feat! You will go far in life–your guts and determination, your bravery and your hard work wil serve you well. Best of luck with your scholarship, your studies and I wish you every success. You earned it!
    Lorraine Marshall (Caty’s mom)

  • I am truly touched by Justin’s story of survival, strength and perseverence to get to be where he is today. It is obvious his work is not yet done in this world, and he has a journey he needs to continue. I wish him all the best in all he wants and needs to do in his life. Godspeed Justin, never dream to small as you will then limit yourself!

  • Justin, this is Leanne’s Mom, Celia Trujillo. What a wonderful essay! I am so impressed by your determination and drive-you haven’t given up. You were a wonderful, talented, and bright person before the accident, and you are all that, plus more afterwards. Many people in your situation would have been bitter, depressed, and lethargic. I know you have had some tough times, but you haven’t let the bad stuff be a permanent part of you. I met your mom and sister, and I admire them greatly. You are a strong and supportive family. I know you will meet your goals, and I fully support you in all that your are doing and hope to do.

  • Wonderful Story, I hope it makes others appreciate what they have and not complain so much about what they don’t have. Great job Iustin!!

  • I had the opportunity to meet Justin while we were all studying abroad together in Guatemala, and I was so happy that he was part of our group. We all became close during the trip – nothing helps you get to know others better than being in a foreign country together, and Justin always stood out as a person full of integrity, kindness, and genuine respect for everyone around him. I remember one night when we all got to hang out together, and when I got home that night, I wrote on my facebook (and I don’t write there often!): “I love life sometimes! Thank you for all of the wonderful people in the world!” And one of the main reasons I wrote that was because Justin was one of the people we got to hang out with, and it just made me very happy to know there were such good people in the world.

    The news of his accident were devastating and it was incredibly difficult to believe that something so tragic could happen to such a wonderful person. However, his ability to pull through and come out of this is one of the most inspiring things I have seen, and I really believe it is due to his inner strength and determination that he was able to do so. Can you imagine what Justin will be able to do when he takes this inner strength and determination to help others? I truly hope that Justin wins this scholarship because it will make it a little easier for him to do what he is planning, but no matter what, I believe that with his strength and good heart he will go far in life, and make this world a better place.

  • I first met Justin when he was only a sophomore in high school. He applied to be a Youth Ambassador to Israel, and was one of only a handful of students from Tucson, Arizona, selected for this prestigious sponsored experience. Along with everyone who has had the joy of knowing Justin, I was devastated at news of his injuries. Visiting him at the hospital in Tucson while he was still in a partial coma broke my heart. When his mother shared with me the horrible sequence of events, I fully understood the full extent of the challenges that were ahead. But I also knew, that behind that poor, broken body was the heart of a champion…Justin deserves only good things in his life from now on.

    As a retired high school principal, I have met many exceptional and deserving young people, but none as exceptional and deserving as Justin.

  • Great essay, I cannot think of someone who deserves this scholarship more than Justin.
    He is the most respectful friend I have ever made and love him for all of his outstanding characteristics.

    My parents were always impressed by his polite nature, they commented about it every time he left my house when we were younger. I always looked up to him for his character, and now even more. He is incredible.

    From my time spent with Justin, I completely believe that Justin would put the assistance to the best use possible. He always gave his education the upmost importance because he truly understood where it could take him.

  • Way to go, Justin. Your good attitude will help you as you journey through this next adventure and through life. You will be an asset to this program, I am sure.

  • I first met Justin while he was in a coma at the University Medical Center. His recovery is a tribute to his strength of character, strong family support and perseverance, and the power do modern medicine. Through no fault of his own his life was derailed by that terrible accident; but its no accident that he is determined to return to school and succeed in life. Not every student is as deserving of a helping hand as Justin. But he clearly deserves this aid and a new chance to complete his education.

  • I am glad to know Justin. He is as great of a person as you could meet. I first met him in track practice and we decided to do pole vaulting. Over the course of knowing him I can honestly say there is not one bad thing I can say about him. I think he would be the perfect person to receive this scholarship.

  • From the times I have met Justin through friends in the freerunning/gymnastic community it has been immediately apparent that he as incredibly strong and all-around incredible person.

    I remember the last time I saw him in person, very well, at a gymastics studio in Tucson. The second you enter the room with him his passionate and giving personality simply makes you feel great. It’s very evident it’s hard for him to not constantly crack a smile and that effect is quite contagious! He’s the type of person who makes any mundane activity a fun time, and who makes a fun time an unforgettable experience. Above all else, he has an unmatched ability to make the absolute best out of the absolute worst.

    Justin, out of every single person I met during my stay at the U of A (including myself), more than deserves as much help as he can get to get through school. He’s not the type of person who only looks good in a certain light, needs to be “talked up”, or have his qualities sugarcoated; he’s a truly incredible human being, through-and-through.

  • My older brother Austin, also a UA student, is going through an eerily similar situation after an injury at the Grand Canyon in August. Justin’s success and ability to overcome his hardships is inspiring to me, and I believe he can do great things with this scholarship.

  • I identify with your story because I am planning on attending the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Business Management for the 2013-2014 school year. I am also planning on studying abroad. Your story has really opened my eyes to the possibilities and cautions of studying abroad. It is so cool that even after your traumatic incident, you still take this all as a learning experience.