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Owen Sarwatka

About Owen

Owen Sarwatka had a unique gift of making a positive difference in the lives of those that knew him. He lived a life of empathy, kindness, and meaning, and encouraged everyone he met to work hard each day to become a better person. His life was filled with challenges, and a congenital birth defect led to 24 surgeries in 27 years. Despite his constant pain and anguish, Owen cherished the opportunity to demonstrate his ability to constantly move forward when life seemed to be filled with roadblocks and obstacles.

Owen was humble and never talked about his accomplishments. He loved sports and participated in gymnastics, soccer, football, baseball, and basketball. He was also very community-oriented and volunteered countless hours with organizations he supported. As a teen, Owen volunteered his time, giving back as a Jr. Counselor at gymnastics camps, a Jr. Umpire for Little League Baseball and a mentor for Special Needs baseball camps. He volunteered his time at the Lowry Park Zoo and to numerous organizations while he was active with the Boy Scouts of America. Owen completed the Community Tampa Bay "Anytown" program to fight discrimination in our community and to learn about diversity. Owen was active in theater and musicals, and this exposure and his compassion for others gave him the ability to be considered a gifted public speaker. Owen served as the student liaison to the Board of Directors as part of the student government in his 7th and 8th grade years.

Owen Sarwatka "Anytown"

At the age of 11, Owen suffered a brain injury while playing football at the start of his fourth season. He showed his commitment to his teammates by being at every practice and helping out at games although his injury prevented him from ever playing football again. He was awarded a "Kids are Heroes" Award, and Tampa Bay Lightning player Nolan Pratt publicly acknowledged Owen's story as truly inspirational with a never give up attitude.

Owen Sarwatka Football

Owen started playing baseball at age 12, and was selected as an All Star in his first season in Little League. The following year, Owen played competitive travel baseball, and he developed a love for the game. Owen was passionate about pitching, and developed into a rising star in the youth baseball ranks. As a freshman in high school, Owen became the only freshman in his class to earn a roster spot on the Varsity Baseball Team.

Owen's birth defect caught up with him during his sophomore and junior years in high school, and he spent most of those years undergoing medical testing and surgeries. Owen was in excruciating pain for eighteen months, and still managed to complete his school assignments and participate in the Boy Scouts of America, while working towards his Eagle Scout rank. Owen faced every surgery with bravery and an endless supply of hope that his next surgery would ease the suffering that he was experiencing. During this time, Owen wanted to find a way to combine his love for baseball with his eagerness to give back to the community by supporting children with disabilities. The creation of Fields of Friends "Everyone Can Play!" event was Owen's vision to give high school athletes the ability to spend a day mentoring special needs children on the game of baseball. This became Owen's Eagle Scout Community Service Project, and later extended into a non-profit organization which holds yearly events.

Owen Sarwatka Eagle Scout

Weeks before the second Fields of Friends "Everyone Can Play!" event, Owen again found himself hospitalized. While undergoing treatment, the hospital staff learned of Owen's accomplishments and communicated information about his project to the NY Yankees. Owen had great admiration for the NY Yankees organization, and the stories of George Steinbrenner’s selfless contributions to the community were a great inspiration. The NY Yankees honored Owen in 2012 by awarding him their HOPE Award (Helping Others Persevere and Excel). The award ceremony took place at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, and he was joined on the field by eighteen high school athletes and the special needs athletes that they mentored in baseball.

Owen Sarwatka HOPE

The following year, Owen had the privilege of representing the American Legion's Florida Boys State Program as a delegate. During his week in Tallahassee, Florida he learned how to conduct the daily legislative governance of the State. At the end of the program, he was recognized by being offered a 2+2 Academic Scholarship to cover his tuition for two years at Tallahassee State College, and two years at Florida State University. Owen was also recognized for his community efforts as a recipient of the Anne Frank Humanitarian Award.

Owen Sarwatka Anne Frank Award

Owen's medical conditions were finally resolved at the start of his senior year of high school, and he finished his high school education as an honor student. He also played on the varsity baseball and soccer teams and was the first athlete in the school’s history to pitch a perfect game, to be an All-County runner up, and to receive an athletic scholarship for college baseball.

Owen Sarwatka Signing Day

Owen's college baseball career was cut short when he was injured a few weeks after starting college. He had multiple surgeries and spent a great deal of time trying to recover from the injury. Owen earned his Class D & G Security Licenses and worked in this field while he was trying to recover from the injury. His community commitment carried over into his adult years as he continued to support his Fields of Friends "Everyone Can Play!" events. He was also a guest speaker and mentor at the Teen Business Challenge events, and was active with the Knights of Pythias and earned the rank of Chancellor Commander.

Owen Sarwatka Fields of Friends

Being born with a birth defect, and undergoing dozens of surgeries in his teenage years, Owen had a passion to help people that were suffering. He graduated from South University in Tampa in 2021 with an Associate of Science in Physical Therapist Assistant. While working full time as a PTA in an outpatient facility, Owen was also working towards completing his Bachelor of Science in Public Health. South University awarded Owen's posthumous Bachelor of Science in Public Health at their 2022 Graduation.

Owen Sarwatka PTA

Owen lived his entire life being an advocate for the oppressed and underserved. He showed courage in the face of countless surgeries and medical procedures and by being the voice and protector of those most needing help. His compassion was inspiring, and he lived each day with the promise of helping those that were suffering. His heart was filled with love, support and empathy for everyone he knew, and he acted selflessly, with great passion and generosity, to encourage others to work toward the greater good. The love of baseball also guided Owen, and it showed him the value of working as a team, and that we each have a responsibility to lift each other up to be successful.

Owen Sarwatka HOPE Award

Traveling and exploring nature were also fundamentally important in Owen’s life. Owen had the opportunity to watch baseball games in 17 of the 30 MLB Baseball Stadiums. He traveled through many States in the country, and enjoyed hiking trails through the mountains and allowing their positive energy to fill his soul. The “Leave No Trace” motto was ingrained into his spirit as a Boy Scout. He believed a clean and healthy environment is everyone's responsibility, and it is our duty to preserve nature’s beauty and wonder for future generations to enjoy.

Owen Sarwatka Outdoors
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