By Ross L. Pike
Collegiate Staff Writer
She has an unmistakable voice. You can always hear it when you are walking about the Main Building or the Student Center. You may have also seen her face on the school’s website as part of the GRCC Works! campaign. Her friends know her as Bow but everybody else knows her as Brittany Kozakiewicz.
“Bow has an indescribable personality and her laugh is so contagious,” said friend and colleague Whitney Cunningham, president of Campus Activities. “People just can’t help but fall in love with her because she is so great.”
Brittany’s friends always describe her as a bundle of energy who’s loud and confident and that is shown by her constant involvement in student organizations on campus. From being a member of GRCC Cares to being the communications director and Student Congress representative for Campus Activities, Kozakiewicz makes sure to play an active role in everything she does. “I found my strengths, what I was good at, and I wanted to give back to everybody and the school,” Kozakiewicz said.
But, Kozakiewicz has had a past unlike many others. She was born in Thailand and three months after she was born there was an accident.
“I guess my mom lived in a poorer area,” Kozakiewicz said. She then told me the story of how a mosquito net hanging over her crib had caught fire and then fell on the infant engulfing her in flames.
The fire meant Kozakiewicz needed numerous surgeries. Due to extensive injuries caused by the fire, Kozakiewicz doctors were forced to amputate her right arm below the elbow and her left leg near the ankle.
“Apart from the obvious scars, I have no memory of childhood in Thailand,” Kozakiewicz said. “I choose not to know. I think it would be like a slap in the face to my parents. Yes, I’m curious, but not enough to ruin the relationship with my family.”
Kozakiewicz was adopted when she was four years old by Kathy Keating, who is general counsel for Grand Rapids Community College. Kathy and her then-husband Joe were using Bethany Christian Services to adopt their third child and discovered Brittany after Kathy’s sister adopted a child from Thailand a year earlier.
“I have a big family with six total brothers and sisters,” Kozakiewicz said. “When I was in fourth grade my parents got a divorce, then they remarried, and our family became highly blended. There are seven kids in total, I just gained a brother and sister on each side. I am really blessed with my family and divorce didn’t change that, they are just so great.”
“My family moved from Grand Haven to Mona Shores when I was going into high school,” Kozakiewicz said. “It was like I was given a chance to recreate myself. Nobody knew me.”
It was here that Kozakiewicz had to choose between soccer and tennis and she chose to pursue tennis, a passion in her life. “Tennis is a sport I can play forever, something that won’t go away,” said Brittany. She now plays for the GRCC tennis team.
“I graduate next week and go to tennis nationals next week too,” she says with excitement. “This year I had a winning season and that was my goal. It’s also my record.”
This year tennis nationals are usually held in Tucson, Arizona but this year they will be held in Tyler, Texas. “This will be an experience of a lifetime. I hope nationals will help tennis get more recognition at GRCC.” Cunningham said. “Even students during orientation are instantly drawn to her. She is so inspiring to see and hear the things she says she is going to accomplish and then it’s even more amazing to see her do them.”
“We’re all unique,” Kozakiewicz said. “I know that I’m an inspiration and it means a lot to me. I choose to use it as a positive and not as a hindrance or handicap.”
“So often I forget that I inspire people and so I don’t act differently,” she said. “It’s just a nice reminder, it keeps me on my toes.”
Kozakiewicz always tells people to stay positive and to keep working hard and is always eager to portray her own experiences to express her point. “Sometimes you just have to work a little harder,” she said. “The doctors didn’t expect me to have any hair after the fire, but I do and I found a style that worked for me and it covers the burns on my head.”
“My mom and dad raised me to be confident,” Kozakiewicz said. “My injuries don’t mean I do less, it means I can do more.”
“Bow says I’m her role model, but I think that’s crazy,” said Tonja Lofton, president of Student Congress. “She has gone through so much, she’s a real inspiration to me.”
“When I got to GRCC, I grew even closer to my mom,” Kozakiewicz said. “Basically it is like a family reunion every time I step on campus though. My mom and stepdad work here and my brother and stepsister go here. College helps people grow and I grew closer to my family figuratively and literally. I never expected this and am so blessed for it.”
Kozakiewicz is now entering her final week as a student going for her Associate’s degree. “My faith has just gotten stronger here,” Kozakiewicz said. “People try to find themselves in college and I did. I’m just so blessed every day.”
“I’m getting my Associate of Arts in Hospitality & Management in Hotel/Resorts from GRCC and then I am planning on dual enrolling at Ferris State University and GRCC,” Kozakiewicz said. “I feel like my time here is up. I think I’ve done everything for CC. I just want to take a step back and watch to see what other people can do.”
“The people I helped train,” she added with a smile. “It’s so hard to leave here. It’s been an amazing ride and I don’t want it to be over.”