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'Be strong, persevere': SLO County resident wins lupus inspiration scholarship

Grace Thayer, lupus scholarship winner, 2023
Posted at 7:48 PM, Jul 21, 2023

Few things are potentially more devastating than being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder — a likely permanent set of complications to which one must reorient their entire life to adjust.

One San Luis Obispo County resident has for years been dealing with just that.

But she hasn’t just been living; she’s been thriving.

Grace Thayer, a Cal Poly graduate in her early twenties, has been named a winner of the Lupus Inspiration Foundation for Excellence (LIFE) scholarship. It’s a merit-based scholarship awarded each year to a handful of individuals who demonstrate both academic excellence and community involvement in the face of challenges related to their lupus diagnosis, according to the organization’s website.

Thayer was named a finalist in February, and, now, as one of five winners from across the country in 2023, has received financial assistance that will continue to help her push through familiar challenges — and those yet to come.

“It’s going to help me a lot,” she told KSBY. “I’ve just been able to make more connections with people with lupus. I get to share my story a little bit and I’m hoping that can help other people in the same way other winners’ stories have helped me in the past. Financially, the scholarship I won will go towards my tuition for my teaching credential next year.”

Thayer was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder when she was 12, about nine years ago, she said. It’s a disease characterized by harsh symptoms brought about by the body’s immune defenses attacking its own system — sun sensitivity, joint pain, rashes, aches, pains and more.

“That’s what triggered all of the tests that figured out that I did have lupus,” Thayer said. “And growing up that meant a lot of things changed in my life.”

One of those things that changed was her passion: playing softball.

"Softball became a lot harder for me,” she said. “Which was challenging because this is my favorite thing to do.”

Thayer had played the sport throughout her youth and had hoped to one day play in college.

“I just knew it was not going to be possible” because of the symptoms, she said.

Despite that, Thayer was able to stay closely connected to the sport, managing the Mustang softball team. It’s a Division I program competing in the Big West conference and against some of the top teams in the nation.

She’s been coaching, too, imparting some of her wisdom, experience and love for the game to those who also share her passion through Aspire Softball Academy in San Luis Obispo.

“I get to be around softball every day which I absolutely love,” Thayer said. “When I get to coach I get to share my love of softball with these girls and help them achieve their goals with softball.”

As for challenges she’s had to face, there have been many. The most recent was a battle to stay on track to graduate from Cal Poly in the face of intensifying complications. Complications that got so bad — described by her as attacking her heart and lungs — that Thayer had to finish her classes from a hospital bed.

She graduated this past spring magna cum laude with a degree in liberal studies. Her GPA? 3.87.

Now, she’s looking ahead to her next goal: earning her teaching credential.

Teaching is a passion that was passed down to Thayer from her experiences with her Templeton-area teachers. Those experiences not only sparked her love for reading and writing but also her desire to be a positive role model for other kids, she said.

Thayer, who has been shaped by a litany of experiences and challenges, both internal and external, will surely have a lot to pass down herself.

“But really what lupus has taught me is: you just go through whatever is given to you and to be strong, to persevere,” Thayer said. “Go with what you’re given and really work hard for what you want to do.”