ZEBULON — Renata Zeitler knew her fall semester would make or break her as a valedictorian contender.
On most weekdays, volleyball practice started at 6 a.m. and resumed after seven hours of classes. Homework – much of it for honors and Advanced Placement classes – often kept Zeitler up past midnight. She found little respite on weekends, working for a department store at Triangle Town Center and volunteering in the community as part of the National Honor Society.
Zeitler remembers struggling to stay awake. One night, she attempted to study calculus into the wee morning hours, but instead “ended up using the book as a pillow,” Zeitler said.
Despite her rigorous schedule, Zeitler emerged with a weighted 4.6 grade point average for the semester, helping her attain a 4.7 overall grade point average and earning her recognition as East Wake Academy’s top academic senior for 2013. In a recent interview, Zeitler credited her success to discipline and a steady diet of mint Cliff bars and vitamin water that helped her “actually pay attention in class.”
“It’s all about time management,” she said.
The Raleigh native admits she’s competitive, but insists her drive toward valedictorian status wasn’t fueled by the urge to beat the competition but by her desire become a role model. Throughout her high school career, she often thought about the children that come to her house every Sunday for youth group.
“I always encourage them to do their best ... but those words wouldn’t mean anything if I didn’t set a good example, myself,” the 18-year-old said. “You wanto to be an influence and show them they should strive for something.”
Zeitler demonstrated the same grit in athletics. She suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. And, as a freshman, she was cut from the volleyball team during tryouts. But none of that kept Zeitler from reaching what she says was her proudest high school achievement: when volleyball coach Maurice Lock named her team captain in her senior year.
Zeitler’s fight against arthritis may not be over just yet. She enters N.C. State University this fall without a declared major, but says she may one day pursue a career treating or studying the condition. If Zeitler’s high school career is a sign of things to come, juvenile arthritis may soon be spiked.