Standing barely 5-feet tall, Makenna Spina has big aspirations to succeed in the traditionally male-dominated careers of emergency medical technician and firefighter.
That’s ambitious, but getting started in those fields is just the early phase of Makenna’s well-thought-out plan to achieve her long-term goal of earning a medical degree and specializing in neurological disorders.
When Makenna graduates from Venice High School, she will also finish her EMT certification at Sarasota Polytechnical High School, where she is dual-enrolled.
She is one of six girls in a class of 23 at SPHS, but being outnumbered by guys doesn’t bother Makenna.
The only girl in a set of triplets, she learned early to assert her independence and stand her ground.
“My brothers obviously are stronger, but I learned how to wrestle as a kid, and I enjoyed it a lot,” she says.
Now that the siblings are older, Makenna says her brothers look out for and protect her – “even when I don’t need it” – and encourage her gym workouts.
“They work out a lot and are muscled, but I go to the gym every day, too, to focus on developing upper and lower body strength and do cardio workouts,” she says.
Makenna will need the strength and stamina this summer in Fire 2 training where she will have to wear heavy firefighter’s turnout gear that weighs nearly half of her body weight.
Putting in extra exercise time to get physically ready for the strenuous training has been the easier part of preparing, Makenna says.
“With my height, I always knew I’d have to struggle to accomplish tough things in the program, so I planned my gym workouts and stuck with them.
“What I had to really focus on was my mental preparation. I had to have a good mindset to believe in myself and be confident I could do what’s needed in Fire 2, ”Makenna says.
Her determination and will to succeed helped Makenna meet the challenge.
“I was told that I’d have to put in more effort than the guys to pull it off. Instead of discouraging me, that motivated me even more. When people doubt what I can do, I like to prove them wrong. I’m determined not to give up when I have my mind set on something. I think that comes from holding my own with my brothers. ”
Makenna’s diligent adherence to a plan helps her excel in other aspects of her busy schedule and puts her in a good position to realize her life goals.
Her choice of a career as a neurologist specialist was spurred by seeing firsthand the challenges her mother has endured after an accident caused disabling nervous system damage.
Makenna and her siblings have pitched in, helping more with household chores and contributing with part-time jobs. Makenna typically works 20 hours a week as a busser at a popular restaurant in Venice.
Her community and volunteer activities also relate to her interest in health. She has participated in cancer awareness programs and has been involved with the local Challenger Baseball program.
“It’s an adaptive program for kids and adults who aren’t able to play in the typical league because of disabilities. I help them catch the ball and run the bases, ”Makenna says.
At VHS, Makenna takes honors classes that include a medical class. She has a 4.19 GPA.
After completing the EMT-Fire program at SPHS, Makenna hopes to work at a fire station where a typical schedule is 24 hours on and 40 hours off.
She’ll use the time off to study nursing or another health science course at State College of Florida and later plans to transfer to the University of Central Florida to pursue an advanced degree in neurology.
Keeping such a precise, rigorous schedule takes discipline but also can take a toll. To relieve stress, Makenna likes to go on long bike rides with her dad. Her dad also taught her some breathing techniques to ease her extreme test anxiety.
She is eager to discover new interests as she makes her way through life after high school.
“I’ve gotten to where I am because I’m very focused and have planned out my steps, but I’m really curious to find what else is out there that’s going to intrigue me,” Makenna says.
“I’ll know it when I get to that point.”
Makenna’s advice for students entering high school: “Be willing to put in the time and effort to get what you want.”
This series showcases Sarasota County public high school seniors selected as STRIVE award honorees for demonstrating grit and resilience to overcome obstacles and substantially improve their lives. The STRIVE Awards recognition is presented by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County and made possible by the H. Jack Hunkele Charitable Foundation and other generous donors. More information is available at EdFoundationSRQ.org/STRIVE2022.