The student online newsmagazine of SHS

The Journal Rewired

The student online newsmagazine of SHS

The Journal Rewired

The student online newsmagazine of SHS

The Journal Rewired

Channeling success

SHS alumn overcomes challenges for a successful life
Salem Ortega-Morales
Zach Pender talks to Diving Coach Kaitlyn May. Pender started diving and found a community.

Waking up around 4:30 a.m., senior Zachary Pender got ready for the day. Around 5 a.m., he’d arrive at SHS alongside the rest of the swim team. After morning practice, the school day begins, usually lasting from 7 a.m. to 1:55 p.m.

But life after school looks different for him.

After school hours, students would typically take the bus home, or have someone else pick them up to go home. Other students might stay at the school for extracurricular activities or sports.

But, Pender was alone. He paid rent, had a job and was basically in charge of his own life.

“I usually try to fix something to eat, or I go to practice after school, or to the gym,” Pender said.

To get here, he came from the Netherlands to Georgia, where his parents passed away in a car accident. This left him with the responsibility of caring for himself and his sister.

They were moved to a foster home and relocated to northern Indiana, where his sister committed suicide. Pender was just 14 years old.

“Growing up, that kind of made it a lot more rough,” Pender said.

Despite these events, he kept going.

When he turned 17, he was let go by the foster care system. Needing a place to stay, Pender moved into a house with a friend’s sister.

He still had a lot of free time after school. So during the 2022-23 school year, he tried out for the swimming and diving team.

“It kind of gives me something to put myself towards, instead of going to work just to get by,” Pender said.

He decided to continue diving for that swim season as he felt like he finally found where he belonged. 

“They’re definitely the most support that I do have,” Pender said.

One of Pender’s teammates who stepped up to help him during these times was junior Hayden Black. On Thanksgiving this year, Pender didn’t have anyone to spend it with. So, Black 

invited him to spend the holiday together.

Soon after, Black’s parents started supporting Pender too.

“We got him some clothes, we got him a hat, gloves and coats for the wintertime,” Black said. “We’ve offered our home if he ever needs it,”

Diving Coach Caitlyn May has also helped Pender out. Over two swimming and diving seasons, she was there for him and helped buy clothes whenever he needed it the most.

Even though Pender had to take care of himself beginning at the age of 17, he’s given his future a lot of thought. After talking about it to some teachers and counselors, he decided to go into the army, with hopes of joining the Special Forces.

In a few months, he’s shipping out to basic military training.

“It would definitely help more with discipline and all that and give me something to put myself towards,” Pender said. 

According to Pender, SHS was a different experience compared to the other places he’s been at. He found himself a new home with the swim team athletes and coaches.

“I’m extremely proud of him,” May said. “This is a huge step for anyone but especially him. To see him grow since I’ve known him … to now being 18 and just seeing him truly grow from being a child to a young adult and serving our country, like that’s amazing.”

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About the Contributor
Thang Khai, Features Reporter
Hello everybody. My name is Thang Khai, and I’m going to be a Feature writer for The Journal this year. I am a sophomore here at SHS, and I’m on the Cross country team and the Track and field team. Most of the time, I hate running. But there are special occasions where it’s decently fun. I like to get involved, so you might see me volunteering at concessions or playing music for the Perry Township Art Show. I’ve played the violin for around four years now, and I believe the best kind of music is classical music. And I think people will hate me for this, but I’m a Boston Celtics fan. I don’t think it’s a big deal, but being in Indiana and telling people that I’m a Celtics fan might not be the best idea. My family is pretty huge. I have five siblings (including myself) and my parents. All of that aside, I’m pretty excited to be in The Journal and I can’t wait to start writing!

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