Cal’s Gray twins, SSU’s Zandonella-Arasa honored by CalHOPE

Twin sisters Anysa and Amaya Gray have overcome a rough early life and tough start at California to succeed on and off the field.

The Gray twins, who play soccer for the Golden Bears, and Sonoma State soccer player Lexi Zandonella-Arasa are the October recipients of the CalHOPE Courage Awards.

The CalHOPE Courage Award is presented by the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and CalHOPE, a crisis support resource for communities impacted by public health emergencies or national disasters, operated by the California Department of Health Care Services. The award recognizes student-athletes at California colleges and universities who have overcome the stress, anxiety and mental trauma associated with personal hardships, injury or life circumstances.

CoSIDA and an Associated Press panel selected the winners.

“I felt like so much of my childhood was having to prove that we could accomplish things despite our circumstances,” Anysa Gray said. “Because my sister and I are so nice and very outgoing, people can take a surface-level view. They don’t realize we had to go through a lot of hardships to get to this point. So it just feels nice that it’s being recognized now.”

The Grays grew up in East Palo Alto and were raised by their mother after their father was incarcerated and then moved out of state. The sisters were homeless at times and often slept on the floors and couches of close relatives. They found an outlet through soccer after a club coach was able to enroll them in a private school.

In her second college game in the spring of 2021, Anysa suffered a severe concussion that kept her off the field and out of the classroom for seven months. Anysa returned to play in the fall and was named to the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll last year.

The sisters have combined for six goals and 14 points during their collegiate careers.

Even though both earned scholarships this year, they also work while juggling being student-athletes. Anysa majors in legal studies, while Amaya’s major is in social welfare.

“I don’t know everybody’s story. But I know ours is a little unique,” Amaya Gray said. “I think this award recognizes that sometimes for a lot of people like it does matter where you come from, but sometimes I feel like it doesn’t. I can get anywhere I want to whether or not I had two parents or whether or not I came from the hood. It’s not going to define me completely. I can do whatever I want if I put my mind to it.”

Zandonella-Arasa became the first person in her family to graduate high school and attend college while her parents dealt with addiction issues. Between high school graduation and the start of college in 2020, her father was arrested and sentenced to three months in a sobriety program. A friend urged her to seek counseling after the stress of caring for her younger sister and mother, the cancellation of the 2020 season, and fear of not being able to enroll at Sonoma State nearly became too much to bear.

As a starting midfielder, the sophomore leads the Seawolves with 11 goals and 29 points. A business major with a 3.59 GPA, Zandonella-Arasa made the Dean’s List last semester and earned California Collegiate Athletic Association All-Academic team honors.

“My counselor has helped me grow and allowed me to see that people can heal from past wounds and traumas,” Zandonella-Arasa said. “I’ve been able to overcome so much by receiving help and learning how to communicate my feelings rather than brush them to the side.”

The Gray twins and Zandonella-Arasa join September honorees Cameron Brink and Garrett Jenson.

Brink, a junior forward on Stanford’s women’s basketball team, focused on her mental health after the pressures of competing primarily on the road and in isolation during the Cardinal’s 2021 national title run came crashing in on her after the season.

Jenson, a redshirt sophomore pitcher at San Francisco State, credits a strong support system for getting him through a pair of spinal surgeries in high school. As a sophomore at Heritage High School in Brentwood, California, he suffered partial paralysis when a meningioma tumor the size of a lemon was discovered in his spinal cord. He had to relearn how to walk and perform other motor skills.

During his senior year, Jenson needed spinal fusion surgery to fix a curvature in his spine due to the tumor.

Monthly awards will continue through April. At the end of the academic year, two athletes will be selected as annual CalHOPE Courage Award winners, and a $5,000 donation will be made in each of their names toward mental health services at their schools.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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