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Survivor winner connects with students

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Ethan Zohn, a cancer surviver and winner of Survivor: Africa speaks to students.

Winning Survivor: Africa might be enough of an accomplishment for just about anybody on the planet, but not for Doane’s guest speaker Ethan Zohn.

Not only has he been on Survivor, but he has also been on The Amazing Race, Fear Factor, Family Feud and numerous other reality television shows.

Zohn was never afraid of failing during these game shows because he looked at them as opportunities and experiences.

“I wasn’t afraid to fail. The worst thing that could happen in all of these (game shows) is that you get voted out first. It’s embarrassing, but you’ll get over it and you’ll learn from it, but it was the experience,” Zohn said.

For Zohn, the money he gained from these experiences wasn’t for personal gain, it was about making a difference in the world. He started his organization, Grassroots Soccer, with the money he made from Survivor Africa in 2001.

Grassroots Soccer aims to eliminate the adolescent health gap by promoting healthier lifestyles through soccer. The organization also informs adolescents of developing countries about diseases like HIV/AIDS, allowing information that would have not been available to them otherwise.

The organization has reached more than 2.7 million adolescents in 45 countries according to its website.

Zohn has not been without his struggles in life either. His motto of never letting a crisis go to waste rings true in his own life.

He was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as CD20-Positive Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in April 2009. He went through chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, only for the cancer to quickly return. It took experimental treatment and a second stem cell transplant for the cancer to go into remission, where it would remain until 20 months later.

In the fall of 2011, Zohn was told the cancer had returned, and he had to face it again. He beat it yet again and has been cancer-free ever since.

He spoke openly about the struggles of losing friends to HIV, his cancer battle and even losing his father at a young age.

“During each moment of my life that was a bad moment, each one of those moments, I used that crisis to do something positive, whether it was big or small. Even in the middle of my nightmare, I was trying to help other people because focusing on the plate of other people helps you heal as a human,” Zohn said.

Zohn came to Doane University through the Hansen Leadership Advisory Board. Andrew Brown, assistant director of the Hansen Leadership Program, said it was students on the Hansen Leadership Board who reached out to Zohn to see if he would come speak.

“We narrowed it down to Ethan (Zohn) just based on who Ethan is, his story of being a cancer survivor, winning a million dollars on a TV show and donating that money to people in Africa,” Brown said.

Brown was impressed with how Zohn integrated his message with Doane and his conversations after the speech Zohn gave.

“There were a lot of students who had questions for Ethan afterward, and it was just really cool to hear their stories and what some students are trying to do, to see the interaction between Ethan and that student and providing that student with connections, that is just phenomenal,” Brown said.

Brown also noted how much he enjoys seeing the spark ignited when students interact with the speakers after the presentation.

All speaker presentations brought to Doane are open to all members of Doane and the community for free.

Zohn preached one message throughout his speech, and that was of helping others.

He quoted a card his mother had given him as a child saying, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has answers, a bird sings because it has a song.”