Student Spotlight: Shayla Silva

by Tracy Kalytiak  |   

Class of 2015, Global Logistics and Supply-Chain Management Hometown: Fairbanks, Alaska Fun Fact: Shayla has worked as lead deckhand on the Riverboat Discovery and as a tour director for Holland America.

An accident Shayla Silva describes as the greatest blessing in her life happened on a February morning inside a university weight room in Alamosa, Colo.

I AM UAA: Shayla Silva

UAA Logistics student Shayla Silva overcame a devastating injury to forge a new life of leadership in Anchorage.
Philip Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage

Shayla, a forward for the Adams State College soccer team, had just finished practice and was doing alternating step-ups onto a metal box while holding a barbell with 65 pounds on it across her shoulders.

"The last thing I remember was standing on top of the box," she said. "Then I was on the ground; I could hear the bar rolling away from me."

Shayla apparently passed out while standing on the box, but didn't let go of the barbell she'd been holding. She fell sideways into a weight rack, crushing a vertebra and nearly breaking another vertebra in half.

"There was so much weight on my shoulders and it completely crushed my body underneath me," she said. "The scary part was I just couldn't feel anything from the neck down. The team captain ran over to me and was holding my hand. I could see her touching me, but couldn't feel her at all. I was a college freshman playing soccer and all of these thoughts were going through my head-what's going to happen."

Setting new goals

Six years later, Shayla, now 25, is a UAA student who studies global logistics and supply-chain management and expects to graduate in May 2015. She has a ConocoPhillips summer internship on her horizon, just completed her reign as queen of the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous winter festival and serves as head indoor soccer coach for Team Alaska at next month's Arctic Winter Games.

Shayla also participates in UAA's Emerging Leaders Program, a four-semester program that helps participants hone communication and leadership skills through mentor connections, speakers, retreats, workshops and community-engagement activities.

ELP, Shayla said, instilled confidence and helped her understand how critical it is for a leader to listen to other people's ideas and ask for help.

"It teaches how to look deep within ourselves and find what kind of leader we want to be," she said. "ELP opened my eyes to different dimensions of what leadership really is."

Shayla says her accident placed her on a path that led  to experiences and opportunities she otherwise would not have had.

"If the break had happened a couple of inches down my back, it could have killed me," she said. "It was horrible, but breaking my back helped me build a new relationship with family and friends, have compassion for more people, learn what family really means. I would never take it back; I would not go back and redo it."

Shayla started learning about motivation and leadership at a very early age, from her parents. Her father is a former rodeo bull rider-turned-smokejumper-turned land manager for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Her mother works as regional sales director in Fairbanks for Westmark Hotels Alaska/Yukon.

"I'm an only child; my parents are all I have," she said. "They made me work, earn what I had."

Shayla loved soccer, a sport she charged into when she was 4. Her dream, from the age of 9, was to play the sport at the college level. She earned a scholarship to play Division II soccer at Adams State after earning seven letters in four sports at Fairbanks' Hutchison High School and being the only girl who played on that school's hockey team.

In 2008, with her broken back stabilized in a brace, Shayla had one option after her accident: return home to Fairbanks, where she could recuperate and form new plans for her life. She spent nine months on bed rest and her orthopedic surgeon almost immediately started her in physical therapy. Shayla trained herself to walk again-looking at her feet, talking herself into picking up one foot and moving it forward, then picking up the other and moving it forward.

"Someone says, 'Let's walk,' and you don't know what walking means," she said. "I kept telling myself this is rock bottom, the only direction I can go is up. I felt defeated. When you go from a healthy Division II college soccer player to not being able to feel anything or feed or bathe myself, it's one of the most horrible things in the world."

By the end of that year, however, Shayla was not only walking, she was traveling in Singapore and Malaysia on a three-month trip with the Youth With a Mission organization. She played games with kids in orphanages, talked to people in prisons and bought lunch for prostitutes they met in the red-light districts and slums where the group stayed.

"We were just there to show love and compassion," Shayla said. "Here, people put so much time into celebrity gossip, jobs. To be able to wrap your arms around a 3-year-old in an orphanage who never had someone hold their face and look into their eyes is a life-changer. I thought I had experienced hardships. I realized how blessed I was."

Shayla contacted her coach in Colorado, who put her in touch with a coach at Iowa Lakes Community College. She played soccer there for a semester, in 2010, until a coach from St. Catherine's University in St. Paul, Minn., recruited her. She played there until the fall of 2011. She had suffered from knee problems for years, undergoing knee surgeries before and after her accident, and then, during her time at St. Catherine's, she tore a groin muscle and broke her foot.

"Everything just crashed and burned that fall," she said. "It got to the point where doctors wouldn't clear me to play anymore."

Opening leadership vistas

Shayla returned to Alaska to help as her mother recovered from surgery for a brain tumor. And, she set new goals: to work on her education and find a different, less physically punishing way to participate in sports.

In the spring of 2012, Shayla enrolled at UAA. She chose to study economics and then found logistics, which intrigued her.

"I knew I would be able to get a job out of college and get an internship with an oil company," she said. "I like the tech side of it. Logistics is the art and science of time and space, linking people and businesses together. It's a perfect fit for me."

ConocoPhillips offered Shayla an internship for this summer.

"I start May 27," she said. "It can't come soon enough! ConocoPhillips is a very community-based oil company. That's something I just always wanted to be a part of."

Shayla works with the Anchorage board of production for the American Heart Association's "Go Red for Women," coaches children at the Anchorage Youth Soccer Club, participates in UAA's Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority and the College of Business and Public Policy's Logistics Club and won a 2013 UAA Multicultural Center AHAINA Woman of Excellence Award. AHAINA is an acronym for African American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, International and Native American.

"When I came to UAA, I found it is definitely a commuter college," she said. "Unless you get involved in the community, clubs, Greek life, athletics, it's hard to build a relationship, and you need to build relationships with people, build trust."

Shayla is about to finish the duties of Miss Fur Rendezvous, a title she snared last year.

"It's not a typical pageant," she said. "Anchorage Fur Rendezvous represents the history of Alaska. It wasn't about me, it was about my community and state, telling our story, what we represent. I got to meet pioneers of Alaska who took part in the first Rondy in the 1930s, former queens, learn about the building of Anchorage and the state. It was fascinating hearing the history of what it used to be like, compared to now. It was an opportunity of a lifetime I'll always hold in my heart."

The Arctic Winter Games, scheduled for March 15-22 in Fairbanks, will give Shayla a chance to help children compete against indoor-soccer players not only from Alaska but from Yukon, Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Greenland, Sapmi and Yamal/Russia. Her family never had the opportunity to see her play college soccer but will be able to see her coach.

"I'm excited to share that," she said. "I don't know what tomorrow holds. My future I know is bright, but also a mystery. I'm so excited to know the mystery of what lies ahead."

Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement. 

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