A serious heart condition changed everything about Mia Wendt's life.
In high school, Wendt was one of the top volleyball players in the state of Pennsylvania. She was so good that she was offered a full scholarship to an NCAA Division I college in New England. But then in the summer before her senior year, Wendt was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (or HCM), which causes a thickening of parts of the heart. People with HCM who overexert themselves could go into sudden cardiac arrest, so Wendt's doctors urged her to give up all competitive sports immediately.
“To be honest, I was in shock,” she said. “I went to three different specialists to get a second and third opinion, but they all said the same thing: No more sports.”
With her scholarship offer rescinded, Wendt had to chart a new path for herself, and that's when IUP came into her life.
Wendt began a new search for a college, and she had a lot of options because she was struggling to narrow down her list of possible majors. But her experience with HCM had made her more aware of more health issues, and she saw her desire to help people increase.
Then she discovered IUP's Food and Nutrition Department, and she had a new plan.
As a Nutrition and Dietetics major, Wendt would learn how food impacts people's health and well-being, and thanks to the Community Nutrition Services program, she would have the opportunity to take what she learned and use it to benefit the people around her. She became involved with projects such as the community garden at Mack Park, where she was able to help people understand the importance of eating a healthy diet.
She had found her calling.
“I feel it's very important,” she said. “Every day, I learn something new about the body and how too much or too little of a nutrient can throw off your whole equilibrium. It's something I take seriously, and I am excited about being able to help people learn this. It also promotes the importance of supporting local farmers' markets and having fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. It was a great way to get involved in the community.”
Finding her passion wasn't the only thing Wendt has accomplished since coming to IUP. In the spring of 2015, she took the opportunity to spend a semester studying in Ireland, where she absorbed everything she could about the nation, its people, and its culture.
“I always wanted to go there,” she said. 'It just astonished me since I was little. It was life-changing. It really shows who you are and what you can handle when you are not familiar with the environment. I think one of the most important things was to establish a rapport with just about anyone I came into contact with. You learn about other cultures and start to understand your own. It was amazing. Throughout college, they tell you networking is important. Well, this set me up for success.”
When she's done at IUP, Wendt plans to go to graduate school and eventually become a registered dietician.
That's a nice goal for a student who once thought a heart condition had taken away everything she loved. Instead, she discovered that it gave her a whole lot more.
“It wasn't easy to overcome,” she said, “but I refused to let it define who I am.”
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