LAKEWOOD RANCH -- When Olivia Ortiz was resting in a hospital bed nine months after breaking her femur and everything looked bleak, the Lakewood Ranch runner never stopped believing things would work out.
Her optimism was rewarded today when the senior signed a national letter of intent to run track and cross country at the University of Alabama.
"This is the ultimate day. Words can't even describe this moment. I am tremendously honored and could not have done it without the help of my parents and coaches," Ortiz said. "I have had quite a journey and am coming around quite quickly now. The injury happened at the last meet of my junior year, and I was curious to see what colleges were still there for me at my lowest point. Alabama was right there, and I felt the love.
"So many thoughts went through my head the day I was injured. I am very determined and I knew I would do whatever it takes to accomplish my dreams. I cannot wait to help Alabama any way I can."
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Ortiz was one of seven Lakewood Ranch athletes to sign national letters of intent.
In football, linebacker Luke Sears and center Michael Farhat signed with the University of Charleston, a Division II school in Charleston, W. Va. Farhat's older brother, Matt, just finished his career at the school.
"My brother going there played a role because of the connections with the coaches," Farhat said. "It definitely helped with both of us. I've been there to watch games. Liked it there and got see snow for the first time. They were ranked 25th in the nation last season."
Ortiz said she is not certain whether she will run high school track this spring, but plans to be ready for the fall collegiate cross country season. She is running now and has started some track workouts.
Joining Ortiz in signing letters of intent were her teammates Kristin Zarrella (Southern Mississippi) and Natalie Novak (USF). Zarrella finished 19th at the state cross country meet, and Novak was 26th.
"This day is all my dreams come true and everything coming together for this one moment," Zarrella said. "I couldn't explain how blessed I am. I am so happy for Olivia with her injury. She deserves it more than anyone I know. She is a talented athlete and a great person."
Lakewood Ranch soccer standout Aubrey Riggins also came off a major injury. The senior midfielder missed all of the regular season, but came back for the playoffs and signed to play for USF. Her teammate, Chelsea Martin, signed with the University of Tampa.
"Ever since I was 4, I played soccer. It's such a big part of my life. After the surgery I just wanted to rehab and get out there and play again," Riggins said. "I tore my ACL last May in powder puff football. I got the offer my junior year, and they stuck with me. It was very important to me. I am going up there in June to start officially training."