2012 Heart of Houston Recipient

SHEFFIELD Teen honored for fighting spirit


Evan 2012

But when it comes to character and spirituality, no one can question the quality of Austin’s heart.Physically, Evan Austin suffers from congenital heart disease.

The Sheffield Junior High School seventh-grader has undergone a lifetime of surgeries because of his condition. He underwent his first operation when he was 4 months old.

In 2007, he had a pacemaker installed, said his mother, Vanessa Lovelace.

“You wouldn’t know it to look at him,” Lovelace said. “He’s a trouper, a real inspiration.”

Austin has had the disease since before he was born. Lovelace was pregnant with him when doctors broke the news to her, but through a lot of surgeries, prayers and determination, today Austin’s prognosis is good.

“He’s had a great team of doctors since before he was born,” Lovelace said.

At age 13, Austin has a 4.0 grade point average, is on the school’s golf team, scholars’ bowl and robotics team and is active in his church.

On Tuesday, Austin was able to add another accomplishment to his resume: He received the Heart of Houston Thrailkill scholarship, provided by the Jeremiah Castille Foundation.

The $1,000 scholarship will be available when college time rolls around for Austin, who was unaware he had received the honor until it was announced Tuesday at the school’s awards program. “It surprised me,” Austin said.

He said he doesn’t know where he wants to attend college, but knows the keys to getting there.

“I just want to keep my faith and work hard to keep my grades up,” Austin said.

He said his pacemaker has made a major difference in his lifestyle.

“It has helped my endurance a lot,” Austin said. “Before, I couldn’t jog around the track without getting winded.”

His father, Alex Austin, said his son earned everything he has accomplished.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Alex Austin said. “I’m not surprised, though. He’s always been a fighter.”

The scholarship goes every year to one junior high student in Alabama who displays spiritual leadership and prevails through adversity, according to Castille, who presented it during Tuesday’s awards program at the school.

“We basically try to invest in young people in the state,” he said. “We look for students who exemplify leadership, resilience, integrity and work ethic. We want to continue to encourage them, and that’s what we do as a foundation.”

Castille was a defensive back for the University of Alabama from 1979 to 1982, earning All-America honors his senior year. He went on to play in the National Football League for six years and became an ordained minister in 2001.

Thrailkill, the scholarship’s namesake, also attended Tuesday’s ceremony. As a youth, the Cullman resident attended a church event during which Castille gave a speech. He was so impressed by the presentation, he asked Castille to sign his Bible.

The Bible and all of Thrailkill’s possessions were lost in a fire when Thrailkill was 14. Out of everything he lost, he was most upset about the Bible. When Castille learned what happened, it motivated him to buy Thrailkill a Bible and start the foundation.

Thrailkill was the first recipient of the scholarship in 2008.

Castille told the audience Tuesday they should consider Austin a reflection of themselves.

“You’re very blessed to have this type of person in your community,” he said. “When you have this type of person in your community, you know you have great parenting and teaching within the community.”

Thrailkill told the audience the scholarship is an example of putting faith into action, which is what Castille did from when he started the award.

“He was moved by my faith that I hope you have or will have in your life,” Thrailkill said.

Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.