Emeril Gordon, 19

Sometimes when I ask myself, ‘Why me?’ I always come to this answer: ‘You’re supposed to do something great. You are supposed to show people that in spite of all this you were able to do something great and pave the way for other people to do more great things and break more barriers.’

Emeril Gordon just completed her freshman year at Arizona State University. While starting college during a pandemic was challenging, the past year was particularly difficult for Emeril as a black woman and as a person with significant health challenges, including celebral palsy, epilepsy, migraines, chronic nerve pain, and GI issues. But for her entire life, Emeril has been unstoppable.

“When my mom was seven months pregnant and my parents were told that I was going to have some brain damage, they didn’t know at the time much about the extent of my disability, but they knew they were going to try. My parents were going to try their best to make my life vibrant. They try to make my life like a regular kid.”

Emeril began playing sports at an early age, beginning with soccer and dance. In middle school, she began experiencing frequent seizures and other issues that caused her to miss school and contributed to her depression, so she and her family wanted to try something new. Emeril began working with a coach who taught people with disabilities how to swim, and she was hooked. She started swimming competitively with local swim clubs, and is now on their Paralympic track. 

“It’s amazing to be in the water,” she says. “Nothing can stop me from just being out there and being free. All of the things I bear out of the water are just gone, and I can be a regular kid, not having to think about my doctors appointments and medications and scary tests.”

Emeril continues to train while at school, while also balancing her health and her studies, and she is more determined than ever: “Being Black, female, and disabled can be challenging. My advice is to never, ever back down or let someone decide your worth or what your destiny is going to be. My older brother is one of my role models. He just graduated from college. He’s a Black male living in America. Other people might see his worth based on a history that is flawed. But he is not destined to be a criminal. He has and will continue to do great things.”

“Don’t let your destiny be determined by what other people think it should be. You’re in control of it. I’m going to go forward and start something new.”

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