Sarah Wins $100,000 Scholarship, Showcases Football Skills After Spinal Fusion

Sarah and CheckThe Pac-12 Football Championship Game featuring the Oregon Ducks and the Arizona Wildcats was more than just a football game to 18-year-old Sarah Roundtree, a freshman at the University of Oregon. It was the chance of a lifetime: a shot to win a $100,000 scholarship. The only catch to winning, she had to compete against another individual in a football throwing contest in front of thousands of screaming football fans at the championship game.

What makes Roundtree’s story so incredible isn’t only the fact that she won; it’s her journey to the championship that makes her special. Less than a year ago, Roundtree was at Seattle Children’s Hospital undergoing an operation to fix two 50 degree curves in her spine.

“Looking back at the past year, I can’t believe I’m where I am today,” said Roundtree.

Deciding to have surgery

Scoliosis Patient X-ray

When Roundtree was in middle school, she had a routine scoliosis test done. At that time, they thought the curve in her back was small enough that it wouldn’t cause her any problems. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Gradually the curve increased in severity and she needed to be seen by a specialist.

“We followed the curve in Sarah’s spine for a couple of years,” said Dr. Wally Krengel, an orthopedic surgeon and chief of Seattle Children’s Spine Program. “Eventually, we needed to have a discussion about surgery. Sarah was experiencing both pain and deformity, and the curve in her spine was going to continue to get worse.”

The most common operation for scoliosis is spinal fusion, a procedure doctors at Seattle Children’s perform nearly 150 times a year, more than any other hospital in the region for pediatric patients. After extensive talks with Krengel, Roundtree decided to move forwarded with surgery and scheduled the operation for March 2014, months before her freshman year of college.

“I felt like Dr. Krengel really listened to me and my family,” said Roundtree. “I remember my mom asking Dr. Krengel, ‘If this is your child, what would you do?’ It wasn’t something we wanted to jump into. It was a really stressful situation, but after trying everything else, I didn’t want to put it off any longer. I trusted his expertise.”

In the end, it was the best decision for Roundtree.

Road to the Pac-12 Championship and $100,000

Sarah and KrengelRecovering from surgery wasn’t easy, but after six weeks she was back to school and even preformed the lead role in her high school musical.

As Roundtree continued to recover, she focused her attention on starting school at the University of Oregon in the fall. In August, she submitted an entry to The Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway in hopes of winning a scholarship to help offset the tuition cost her parents would have to pay.

In her winning submission below, she explains why she applied for the scholarship:

I have been lucky enough to grow up with my wonderful brother, Alex. He has Down syndrome and is the most important person in my life. Having been raised around people with special needs, I see the struggles them and their families face on a daily basis. I wish to study psychology so I can counsel and be an aid for families with special needs.

Winning big for her family

Duck and Sarah

After being chosen as a finalist, Roundtree was flown down to Santa Clara for the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway, only a few months after having the spinal fusion for her scoliosis. Out of the four contestants who were chosen from thousands of online submissions, she made it to the final to compete for the $100,000.

Then she won!

“It’s still surreal,” said Roundtree. “The whole experience was such a blessing. I wanted my family to be able to focus on my brother, and with the scholarship, that helped enormously.”

Watch as she competes in the final below.



  • Seattle Children’s Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Program
  • What is Scoliosis?
  • Spinal Fusion Helps Teen Gymnast Overcome Scoliosis