Sault native Nik Provenzano has been awarded a $28,000 scholarship from the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award Program.
The scholarship is one of the most prestigious in Canada, established in 1982 in honour of one of the country’s most notable heroes, designed to encourage and support young Canadians as they carry on Fox’s humanitarian example through higher education.
While the dollar amount is impressive, the odds of winning the scholarship are as well.
Provenzano is one of only 16 recipients (and one of only two males) to receive the award on the program’s latest list of winners, and one of over 700 people who applied for the award.
That’s an acceptance rate of just 2.1 per cent.
“It was a very big surprise,” Provenzano said, speaking to SooToday.
Provenzano, 22, was born without a left hand, stating he has been an ambassador for the prosthetics industry for most of his life.
“It was a pretty rigorous application process (to be in the running for the scholarship).”
“It took about two weeks to complete. You list all the awards you’ve won, sports you’ve played, volunteer experiences, paid work experiences and a 1,500 word essay you had to write, explaining why you believe you deserve the award.”
“I found out a week ago. The top 70 candidates are interviewed by the board of directors of the foundation. They contacted me a week after the interview saying I’d won.”
“It was pretty humbling,” Provenzano said.
He has competed against able bodied athletes in several sports, such as hockey, soccer, basketball, track and field and badminton.
Provenzano will be going into his final year of Biomedical Engineering at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in September, specializing in Biomechanics and Biomaterials, planning to graduate in May 2022.
He is a founding member of his university’s bionics design team.
“We’re currently designing a prosthetic hand,” he said, his team involved in international competitions.
Provenzano is looking forward to completing his undergraduate degree, then moving overseas next summer to work with the Italian Institute of Technology.
From there, he plans to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, anticipating a move to southern Ontario to live and work.
Provenzano said he has a vision of starting his own bionics company to provide advanced prosthetics to people in impoverished communities.
“From being an amputee myself, I’ve noticed that prosthetics are either designed very, very primitively, or the highly advanced ones can run up to around $50,000 per device, so I want to find a way to reach the middle ground and get hi-tech devices to people who can’t typically afford them and need them.”
“I’ve always had a fascination for bionics but I’ve never personally worn a prosthetic unless it enhanced what I could do. My amputation is just at my wrist so it’s not limiting enough that I need one (using a prosthetic only for activities such as playing hockey and weightlifting),” Provenzano said.
“Wearing prosthetics at sports has led me to actually design prosthetics myself for the prosthetics industry.”
Prior to university, Provenzano graduated from the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Korah Collegiate in 2017.
He was a member of Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano’s Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council (MYAC) in 2016.
Since 2018, he has been a fitness coach for the U.S.-based NubAbility Athletics Foundation, which helps children with missing limbs participate and excel in athletic activities.
He returned to the Sault in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, continuing his education at UBC remotely.
Not one to be idle, he co-founded a local grocery delivery business last summer with friend Daniel Martella.
The business was called ‘Dashier,’ a play on the words ‘dash’ and ‘cashier.’
“It was established to deliver groceries to local residents who wanted to refrain from leaving their homes during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We had jobs, but everything got put on hold with everything going remote, so we decided to create this startup to help people. We helped a lot of people in the community just by delivering groceries to them.”
Provenzano credits his exposure to The War Amps (a well known Canadian nonprofit organization which supports amputee veterans and non-veterans, including children) and his own parents for inspiring him to overcome his challenges.
“This predisposed obstacle has forced me to harness my ingenuity in various ways, leading me to develop a highly adaptive mindset early in my life. Despite this perceived disability, I’ve never allowed it to be an excuse from doing what I could achieve,” Provenzano said.
“I’ve never seen myself as having a disability, and I want to extend that and inspire other young amputees to pursue what they want to do in life. I want to give back to that community.”