May 8, 2015
By: Katie Egan


No matter how you look at it, Elizabeth Roux and Regine Francois both go the distance.

In the classroom. As athletes. As young women.

The two high school seniors are cross country powerhouses and academic all-stars.

And both have battled adversity that would have sidelined most people — succeeding beyond what most people could imagine.

Roux and Francois will leave the Collier high schools this year and head to college and Wednesday, they both were honored with a $20,000 scholarship from the Foot Locker Foundation, along with 20 other students from across the country.

Related article: People Magazine highlights Immokalee student headed to Columbia

Thirty thousand hopefuls applied for the award, which recognizes academic and athletic accomplishments.

“You needed to be an athlete first and demonstrate all of the characteristics in sports and Elizabeth is clearly that,” said Paul Barlow, Roux’s former coach at Gulf Coast High School.

“Cross country runners are wired differently,” he said. “They have a very strong ability to work hard for today for results that may not come for many days down the road. Typically speaking, they’re very strong academically, too, because that skill set spills over into academics.”

The scholarship is funded by the Foot Locker Foundation and administered through the TMI agency, which helps vet scholarship applicants. Fifty hopefuls were selected from this year’s 30,000 applicants and 20 were honored.

Noemi Perez has worked with Francois at the Immokalee Foundation since the Immokalee High School senior was in the seventh grade.

“She’s always been ambitious, always been motivated. It really doesn’t surprise any of us that she was able to accomplish what she did.”

Francois, who has a 5.3 GPA and 60 Florida Gulf Coast University credit hours under her belt, is the oldest of six children and moved to the U.S. from Haiti when she was 4 years old.

“Just to know that they believe in me enough to leave their country,” Francois said of her parents. “I’ve always had the desire for them to be proud of me.”

Francois said she found her confidence filling out college admission essays.

“You have to sell yourself and show that you’re determined and can succeed in that environment,” she said. “I learned I can really do this. Failure is not an option. I’m going to help my family and do whatever it takes.”

And after being accepted to 11 colleges, including three Ivy League schools, it appears Francois can do whatever she sets her mind to.

She had her heart set on Georgetown University, but after visiting Columbia University in New York City, she said she decided to go there because she loves “meeting new people with different backgrounds.” She was also interested in Columbia’s global development and business programs and wanted to pursue an internship with the United Nations.

In 2014, she established the annual service project “Hygiene for Haiti,” which sent hygiene products to the country. Through volunteering, Francois says she’s developed a “really big” heart to help people.

When she’s older, she wants to own her own business or nonprofit organization to “maybe help people living in Immokalee or Haiti.”

Like Francois, Roux has also had to overcome adversity.

Roux was adopted from China by her mother and father when she was 11 months old.

But tragedy struck in October 2013, when her adoptive mother lost her battle with cancer.

“Throughout all of this, Elizabeth is taking care of the bills, grocery shopping, personal and medical needs,” Barlow said. “Dealing with someone with cancer is an incredible taxing job,” and no one but Elizabeth, he said, knew what was really going on.

“And I’m not an easy coach so it was even more remarkable to me that she was able to balance all of this.”

Roux is the captain of her cross country team and running club, a state representative of Florida High School Athletic Association, vice president of the Green Club, historian for the National Honor Society and has completed over 800 hours of community service; all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

“People are always amazed by her poise and level of maturity and ability to speak. She’s going to be somebody that makes a change in this world. I don’t know how and in what form, but she will,” Barlow said. “She’s got every right in the world to be negative and mad, but she purposely has chosen to be a very positive person.”

In a prize winning essay written this school year, Roux talked about the strength she got from her mother.

“She told me life is not so much about conquering as it is about fighting well, ” she wrote. “I will live well and love living, for I know that challenges are only more of life’s glorious adventures.”

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