4 girls overcome hardship to win national competition - WNEM TV 5

4 girls overcome hardship to win national competition

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)
SAGINAW, MI (WNEM) -

Four girls worked together to win a restaurant management competition.

It's a field typically dominated by men, but that didn't mean much to these girls who embody the meaning of the word perseverance.

Each girl has an incredible story to tell. One even fought through the effects of cancer to help her team.

"I have a lot of young siblings and I just wanna show them that no matter what, cancer and all, you can do whatever you put your mind to," Ketonya Jenkins said.

Jenkins overcame more than the average teenager and accomplished more too.

"Four years ago I was diagnosed with aplastic anemia and this is a cancerous illness, the early stages of leukemia," Jenkins said.

It makes every day things like competitions that much more difficult.

"I was going through new treatments and it was taking a big toll on me and I was like very sick and ill," Jenkins said.

Jenkins and her team from the Saginaw Career Complex participated in the Prostart Competition, a national competition in which teams have to design a restaurant from the top to bottom. They won the local competition in Frankenmuth and went to South Carolina to compete for the national crown.

But a day before the national event something happened.

"My teammate was like, 'Your ports are bleeding.' And I'm like, 'Really?' So I freaked out, went to the emergency room and their like, 'You're fine for now.' And I was like, 'Yeah, because I have to go to my competition,'" Jenkins said.

The next day Jenkins and her teammates - Bella Dean, Noemi Perez and Shanttal Gonsalves - blew the judges away with their restaurant. They didn't just take home the trophy, but they also took home more than $300,000 worth of scholarships each.

"When they first called us I was gonna throw up I was so overwhelmed," Perez said.

Their instructor Julie Ivan said this is not only a big deal for Saginaw, but Michigan as a whole. Especially for an all female team in a male dominated industry.

"This is the first time that Michigan Prostart has ever won the management competition. So this is a big honor. These girls coming from Saginaw beat out everyone in the United States," Ivan said.

Jenkins said her entire team had various struggles, but her mentors were always there pushing them forward.

"We each did break down during the process. It was getting too intense and Ms. Ivan said, 'Do you wanna win?' And we wanna win and we won," Jenkins said.

The girls took home experience for their resume and several full rides to college.

Gonsalves also has a story to tell. She overcame the horror of domestic violence.

"There was a time in my life when I did have to stay at a women's shelter. And we did not have the means to take care of ourselves at that time," she said.

The 17-year-old didn't always have it easy.

"My parents divorced when I was 8 and so the means for the divorce was domestic violence," Gonsalves said.

She turned that tribulation into motivation. She said her entire team is deserving of their first place award.

All four girls are now set to head to college in the fall, which is especially exciting for Perez.

"It was really awesome because I'm actually the first one in my family as a female to go to college," Perez said.

Dean said it's important for others to know anyone is capable of success no matter where you come from.

"A lot of people, especially in this area, believe they can't do what they wanna do because of where they came from. And so even if they are passionate about something, they aren't driven to go after it. And I would encourage them to remember that they are very capable," Dean said.

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