Ayenza A. Matthews Ortega, 2022 Hispanic Woman of Distinction Wellness Director, Heal the Planet
“Wherever I go I bring my folklore and culture as I am proud to be Latin and even more proud to be a woman.”
Most of us have a desire to accomplish goals, but how many of us have the determination to achieve those goals despite seemingly impossible limitations? Ayenza A. Matthews Ortega is just such a person.
As a child in her native Panama, Ayenza fell often and endured much pain. Her mother took her to numerous doctors and repeatedly was told there was nothing physically or neurologically wrong. But her mother persisted, and eventually more sophisticated tests were performed, and it was discovered that Ayenza not only had scoliosis, but she also had one leg shorter than the other. Now, wrapped in confining braces and orthopedic shoes, instead of a childhood of play, Ayenza could only watch from the sidelines.
One day in high school, to be free of her painful and blistering restraints, she removed her braces and vowed never to see another doctor for her conditions again.
When she finished her studies, Ayenza wanted to find a way to help someone. She found her mission through the American Cancer Society as they helped her train for an upcoming marathon. Against all odds and despite much suffering during training, Ayenza, who had difficulties even walking, became a marathon runner. Despite her physical limitations, including having her lung capacity reduced almost to half because of the restrictive corset she wore growing up, Ayenza persevered.
She studied and competed in combined track and field events such as shot put, javelin, heavy weight, disc and hammer throwing. Sports took her to meets around the world where she not only competed but climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, carried a ceremonial Olympic torch in Mexico and jumped out of an airplane with a tender to get to the starting line of a 10K race that began immediately upon landing from the jump. She also lectured about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise, supported a child in Ecuador and another’s educational needs in Tanzania, brought needed supplies to children in the poorest and most dangerous slums in Kenya, Mumbai, Colombia and Brazil. She also helped build bathrooms and donated desks and provisions in Tanzania for disabled and albino children.
Although she has earned medals, trophies, awards and media recognition for her athleticism, volunteerism, fundraising and ambassador-like efforts to make a better world, one of her greatest recognitions came when a Kenyan child of the Maasai tribe was born and named after her.
In addition to her sporting life, Ayenza now works as the Wellness Director for Heal the Planet in Fort Lauderdale. Their mission is to educate and empower people to make good daily choices that will favorably impact not only humanity but the planet itself.
Ayenza received her Associates degree from Broward College, her B.A. in psychology from Florida Atlantic University and her MBA from Nova Southeastern University. She also earned multiple certifications as a track and field coach and participates in numerous sports organizations and non-profits.
In her spare time, Ayenza helps with a variety of charities that support women and children and she runs. Why? Because she can.
The annual celebration of Community, Culture and Charity honors Latinas in South Florida, past and present.
The 21st annual Hispanic Women of Distinction Charity luncheon to be held on Friday, August 26th, 2022, at Signature Grand in Davie, Florida is anticipating another sell-out of up to 1000 guests paying tribute to Latina professionals who are strengthening the social fabric of this country and making inroads in the leadership pipeline for a growingly diverse America.
Founded in 2001 by the late Erwin M.Vasquez, M.D., a Venezuelan-born cardiologist, philanthropist and publisher of the pioneer Spanish newspaper, El Heraldo de Broward, the goal was to help to empower Latinas and to recognize the influence they have in the South Florida community. These Latinas, both past and present, are not afraid to dream big, to carve their own paths, to be grateful for the opportunities they have received, and to pay it forward to those who will follow.
The 2022 Honorees are:
- ODALYS AREVALO – co-founder, Las Madrinas de Los Seguros, managing partner Sunshine Life & Health Advisors.
- ALEXANDRIA AYALA – School Board Member, Palm Beach County
- DUNIA CUNEO – Owner, Doral Human Resources Consulting
- SYLVIA DAUNERT, PhD, PharmD, MS – Lucille P. Markey Chair and Professor, Dept. Biochemistry/Molecular Biology, Miller School of Medicine
- JESSICA JOSEPH – Manager. Philanthropy/Public Relations, Catholic Hospice, Inc.
- NAELYS LUNA- Ph.D., MSW – Founding Dean & Professor, College of Social Work & Criminal Justice – Florida Atlantic University Work & Criminal Justice – Florida Atlantic University
- AYENZA A. MATTHEWS – Wellness Director, Heal the Planet
- MONICA PAYARES-LIZANO, M.D. – Pediatric, Orthopedic Surgeon, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital
- SUSY DIAZ PIESCO – Exec.Director Middle School of the Arts Foundation, City Councilwoman Greenacres City
- KARINA de OLIVEIRA RODRIGUES – Assistant County Attorney, Broward County Attorneys Office
- VANESSA SELTZER – Director of Philanthropy, Arc Broward
- PATRICIA TREJO – Adm. Program Planner Hispanic/Latino Studies, Palm Beach County School District, FL-ALAS President
2022 LATINA PIONEER of the YEAR
ANA VEIGAMILTON – President, José Milton Foundation, Chair of Jackson Health Foundation, UM Trustee and President of the Citizens Board, lawyer and engineer, committed to impactful philanthropy and community engagement throughout South Florida. Family Values • Community-Wide
UP & COMER HONOREE
ARLETTE GOMEZ – Third year law student at NSU, Shepard Broad College of Law, Dean’s list with awards for outstanding service. Cuban born, this young woman is active on numerous community boards, and NSU’s President’s 64 Member, whose purpose is to strengthen the relationship with the community.
More related content