Life is filled with obstacles and frustrations. How you handle the challenges could determine your altitude.
That was Tamara Gordon’s message to Malvern Christian Assembly elementary and high school graduates last Sunday night.
The TD Bank customer relations co-ordinator speaks from experience.
Gordon suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury in February 2002 while on a high school downhill skiing trip. The spinal cord and brachial injuries left her paralyzed from the waist down and without the use of her dominant left hand.
“Before that day, I was sailing on the ocean of life smoothly and confidently,” she told the young people. “The sun was shining on me and everything seemed to be working in my favour. It was a time when I was walking and running like all of you. As a small child, my dream had always been to win a basketball scholarship in the United States and pursue a law degree. Just three days after speaking with the scouts and thinking that my dreams were going to become a reality once I graduated from high school, I had this accident.”
Despite the setback, the Markham resident graduated on time from high school as an Ontario scholar with a 91 per cent average.
Four years ago, she completed her undergraduate degree at York University in Administrative Studies and was on the Dean’s List.
In spite of limited mobility, recurring health issues and challenges associated with functioning as a student and a person with disabilities, Gordon was quite active on campus. She headed the student caucus for undergraduates with disabilities and served as the student undergraduate representative for Access York.
“When I had my accident, I was immediately faced with a choice,” she said. “I could give up and accept defeat or I could choose to continue to fight and to live life to the best of my ability. I think you can guess what I decided to do just by my presence here today. My body was paralyzed but my mind was not. I refused to use paralysis as an excuse to stop achieving.”
Gordon is the recipient of close to 60 scholarships, certificates and awards, including Harry Jerome and TD Canada Trust scholarships. In August 2006, she completed an internship at a TD bank close to her then Don Mills residence and was offered a full-time position. She currently works with a branch near her Markham residence and is its diversity committee representative.
In 2009, she was the recipient of the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers and the Mildred Theobalds Prize awarded to the York University undergraduate student with the highest mark in the Introductory Marketing course. The award was set up to honour the late long-time York University program coordinator.
Gordon is also quite busy in the community. She sponsors a volunteer centre for the tenants in the Don Mills building where her mother still resides and she’s a board member on the Operating Engineers Local 769 Non-profit Housing Inc. In the past, she was a peer support volunteer with the Canadian Paraplegic Association, spending hours with young people suffering from spinal cord injuries. She also spearheads a teen volunteer program and tutoring service, organizes free back-to-school barbecues and Canada Day celebrations and presents motivational speeches, always reminding young people to strive to overcome barriers they face in life.
“My message to you tonight is simple,” said Gordon. “Having determined your goals, I urge you to maintain your focus on them at all times and work hard. I promise that if you do this, you will accomplish whatever you desire because anything is possible. The difficulties and challenges are going to come because they are part of life.”
The recipient of a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal from Prince Charles a year ago, Gordon recently set up a foundation to help young people realize their dreams.
Following her keynote address last Sunday, she presented a scholarship to Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute Grade 12 graduate, Klaudia Biazik, who will enter the University Of Ontario Institute of Technology in September to pursue nursing studies.