TAMPA — For University of Tampa women's lacrosse player Megan Sanchez, community service isn't an obligation.
It's a way of life.
Sanchez, from Wesley Chapel High School, was surprised to receive UT's Freddie Solomon Community Service Award, given by the school since 2013. Not because she wasn't deserving or qualified. But she never expected formal recognition for something that came so naturally to her.
"Being a volunteer always brightens my day,'' said Sanchez, who is scheduled to graduate in December with an Allied Health degree, which she hopes to use for a physical-therapy career. "I didn't know about this award, but it's such an honor to receive it. It was a shock.''
Sanchez, a three-year letter winner with UT lacrosse, has logged nearly 300 volunteer hours with Tampa General Hospital. She assisted with child life (opening the playroom and visiting patients). She worked in the rehabilitation center (with traumatic brain injury patients and geriatrics). She also served in pediatric roles with inpatient/acute rehab and outpatient rehab.
She has participated in more than 400 volunteer hours at Watergrass Elementary School, while working with children with disabilities through the Special Olympics, Learning Your Function and Wildcat Wings Club.
She also was an active volunteer with the Epilepsy Service Foundation — a special cause because Sanchez's brother was 3 when he was diagnosed with epilepsy — and Select Physical Therapy.
"Between school, lacrosse and all of her community service work — oh, and she also has a part-time job — I honestly don't how there are enough hours in the day for her to get it all done,'' UT women's lacrosse coach Kelly Gallagher said. "I'm to the point where none of it really surprises me. That's what Megan does. That's who Megan is.''
Gallagher always noticed Sanchez's presence during Friday practices because they usually followed after her volunteer work at TGH.
"I guess most people are different on Friday — because it's Friday and the weekend is coming, right?'' Gallagher said. "But I knew she would be coming from the hospital. She always had a big smile on her face. She was in a happy and fulfilled state of mind.
"I think she finds great purpose in volunteering. And what a beautiful thing that has been in her life.''
Gallagher first became acquainted with Sanchez when UT began its women's lacrosse program. One of Gallagher's first tasks was building relationships in the local community. While recruiting a player with the Wesley Chapel Lacrosse Association, she met Sanchez, who was a few years younger.
Sanchez showed an interest in UT from the beginning. Gallagher said Sanchez, although mostly playing in a reserve role, has been an ideal addition to the program.
"Megan is definitely an introvert to the point where she's not going to come and hang out in my office,'' Gallagher said. "If Megan is there, I know she's there for a specific reason or she needs something.
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"I think that's her personality. She knows what she wants and knows how to get it. She gets the job done. She's a quiet and humble leader, very confident in who she is and what she wants in the future. Every kid on our team loves Megan.''
That might be due to Sanchez's humility.
Now she has a bit of the limelight.
The award is named for Freddie Solomon, the former UT quarterback (from 1971-74 just before the school dropped football) and two-time Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers. In 2002, Solomon was named co-UT Athlete of the Century, along with baseball player Tino Martinez, who won four World Series championships with the New York Yankees.
Solomon was big on community service, working with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and numerous charities. A plaque is displayed in UT's Martinez Center that quotes Solomon as saying he wanted people to remember him first as a giving and charitable person, not an award-winning athlete.
"I read up on Freddie Solomon after getting the award and it's an honor to be (associated) with someone like that,'' Sanchez said.
The display also honors the award's current recipient, so Sanchez's photo will be visible for the next year at the Martinez Center.
Gallagher jokingly said Sanchez probably would prefer to be anonymous.
"Megan Sanchez is definitely not the spotlight girl,'' Gallagher said. "Even though this is a relatively young award for UT athletics, we have received so much positive feedback because she's the first women's lacrosse player to receive it.
"At the end of the day, the reason we're here is to give young women a chance to thrive on and off the field and in their community. We want our kids living out their mission and purpose. That's what Megan Sanchez is doing.''
Contact Joey Johnston at email@example.com.