Standing just 5 feet tall, Makenna Spina aspires to succeed in the traditionally male-dominated careers of emergency medical technician and firefighter.
It’s ambitious, but getting into these fields is just the first phase of Makenna’s well-thought-out plan to achieve his long-term goal of earning a medical degree and specializing in neurological disorders.
When Makenna graduates from Venice High School, she will also complete her EMT certification at Sarasota Polytechnic High School, where she is dual-enrolled.
She’s one of six girls in a class of 23 at SPHS, but Makenna doesn’t mind outnumbering the boys.
The only girl in a family of triplets, she learned early on to assert her independence and hold on.
“My brothers are obviously stronger, but I learned to wrestle as a kid and enjoyed it a lot,” she says.
Now that the siblings are older, Makenna says her brothers watch over and protect her — “even when I don’t need it” — and encourage her to exercise.
“They work out a lot and are muscular, but I also go to the gym every day to focus on building upper and lower body strength and doing cardio workouts,” she says.
Makenna will need strength and endurance this summer during Fire 2 training where she will have to wear heavy firefighter gear that weighs nearly half her body weight.
Putting in the extra time exercising to physically prepare for the intense workout was the easiest part of the preparation, Makenna says.
“With my height, I always knew I would struggle to do hard things in the program, so I planned my workouts at the gym and followed them.
“What I really had to focus on was my mental preparation. I had to have the right mindset to believe in myself and be sure I could do what was needed in Fire 2,” Makenna explains.
Her determination and drive to succeed helped Makenna rise to the challenge.
“I was told that I would have to try harder than the guys to succeed. Instead of discouraging me, it motivated me even more. When people doubt what I can do, I like to prove them wrong. I am determined not to give up when I have something in mind. I think it comes from me getting along 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 achieve her life goals.
Her choice of a career as a neurologist was spurred on by seeing firsthand the challenges her mother endured after an accident caused crippling nervous system damage.
Makenna and her siblings participated, helping more with household chores and contributing to part-time jobs. Makenna typically works 20 hours a week as a waitress at a popular restaurant in Venice.
His community and volunteer activities are also linked to his interest in health. She participated in cancer awareness programs and was involved in the local Challenger Baseball program.
“It’s a program suitable for kids and adults who can’t play in the typical league due to a disability. I help them catch the ball and lead the bases,” says Makenna.
At the VHS, Makenna takes specialization courses which include a course in medicine. 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 will use the free time to study nursing or another health science course at the State College of Florida and later plans to transfer to the University of Central Florida to pursue graduate studies in neurology.
Keeping such a precise and rigorous schedule takes discipline, but can also have adverse consequences. To relieve stress, Makenna likes to take long bike rides with her father. Her father also taught her some breathing techniques to relieve her extreme test anxiety.
She is eager to discover new interests as she progresses in life after high school.
“I got to where I am because I’m very focused and planned my steps, but I’m really curious to find out what will intrigue me,” says Makenna.
“I will know when I get to that point.”
Makenna’s advice to students entering high school: “Be prepared to put in the time and effort to get what you want.”
This series features Sarasota County public high school students selected as STRIVE award winners for demonstrating courage and resilience to overcome obstacles and dramatically improve their lives. Recognition of the STRIVE Awards is presented by the Sarasota County Educational Foundation and made possible by the H. Jack Hunkele Charitable Foundation and other generous donors. More information is available at EdFoundationSRQ.org/STRIVE2022.