“My daughter was approached with a Scholarship offer to a University in the United States. She was spotted at a tournament where she was playing for her city at the time.”
A proud mother reminisced about her once extremely passionate basketball player daughter who played for her high school team as well as for her City. “She was only in grade 11. But we had a university scholarship waiting for her upon her graduation.”
Life seemed well taken care of for the parents of this extremely talented young lady.
Meet Tamara Gordon.
“But then, that one day changed everything in my life,” says Tamara. “February 13th 2002.” A day she’ll never forget. Life came crashing down for Tamara as she was involved in a skiing accident on her one day school trip to Barrie, Ontario.
“I vaguely remember going on top of the hill,” remembers Tamara with a lot of effort. “The next thing I recollect was waking up in the hospital to my mother calling out to me.”
Tamara’s mother fills in the gap. “I got a call on my phone about an accident that had occurred at the ski base in Barrie involving my daughter.” Her mother, a heart patient herself, rushed to the ski base, thanks to her neighbours who took charge. “Tamara got airlifted out of the ski base, while my neighbours brought me back to the city hospital. She had already been taken to the trauma unit before I arrived.”
A day long surgery had saved Tamara’s life. However, she was paralyzed from her waist down. The doctor also gave his final word. “Tamara will never be able to sit up or walk ever again.”
At that moment Tamara’s mother had to put on a mask; a mask of bravery above the tears in her eyes.
“You know, everything in my life came rushing before my eyes. I had been very sick, but my daughter had helped me pull through till she had that accident. But after that, I had to be there for her, strong and positive,” says Marcia, Tamara’s mother, whose eyes still get teary while talking about her love for her girl. “While my daughter was lying there in the surgery room unconscious, undergoing hours of surgery, 25 of my friends were waiting outside, praying for her.”
Hours later, all the cries, the doubts, the apprehensions, and fears all came to an end when suddenly they heard a woman’s non-stop talking and laughter coming towards the entrance of the Intensive Care Unit and went straight into Tamara’s room. Rushing into the room they found Tamara up and cracking jokes with all around her. “She’ll always be my happy-go-lucky daughter,” says a grateful mother. But she knew that their worlds would never be the same again. “And I just had to be strong for her....” says Marcia.
One wonders, if through the laughter, Tamara quite understood what had occurred, so unbelievable was her calm in the face of storm. “I knew what had happened to me,” says Tamara, “I was told I could never ever walk in my life, or even sit up, or have a fully functioning left arm ever again. I knew my spinal cord was damaged and I had nerves that were torn all throughout my shoulder,” she answers.
“But I have an unwavering faith.”
Call it a mother’s belief in her daughter or call it her immense faith in God; today, almost 14 years later, Tamara is recovering slowly but surely. “The first time my girl got into one of those wheelchairs, we were all so excited with all the controls that we forgot the basics of the remote,” laughs Tamara’s mother, whose foot got crushed and broken as Tamara rode right over it, being unable to stop the battery operated device. Now they both have a good laugh about it. Her first wheelchair ever, was to become Tamara’s support for life.
As she lay paralyzed in bed for the next couple of years, Tamara went on to complete her schooling with an overall average of 91% thanks to the help of private tutors, school teachers and her own mental determination. She then went on to graduate in June 2009, from York University with a degree in Administrative Studies, B.A.S., Special honours (General Management) with the distinction Cum Laude. She was also recognized as a Member of Dean’s Honour Roll. There is a glint of thrill in Tamara’s eyes as she recalls her achievements that shine till today. In addition, she is also the proud recipient of over 60 academic scholarships and awards. Most recently, she received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal Award from His Royal Highness, Prince Charles of Wales. The Nelson Mandela Humanitarian Award from Planet Africa Awards and she is presently an Advisory Council Member for the Prince’s Charities Canada.
“It was then, for the first time during my days at University, when I realized how difficult it is for a lot of the students with physical disabilities to continue to study due to financial constraints.”
Tamara who had taken on the role of the student representative for all undergraduate students with physical disabilities realized some things were amiss and just not right. She was continuously and persistently bringing forth issues faced by these students to the Access York Meetings (faculty and staff at York). To sum it up, Tamara became the face of hope for these students. Hope for all those students who came from families that had spent their lifelong savings on the treatment and care of their children with disabilities, leaving them with little or no money for higher education. Hope for all of those students whose voices were thus far unheard by people around them. “In talking to these students, I became aware that there was a desperate need for scholarships. There were students who dropped out due to lack of funds.”
The next few years spent at her university deepened Tamara’s relationship with her mother even more, as mom accompanied her daily to her classes as her note taker. “I couldn’t keep up with my writing because the accident had resulted in me losing the use of my dominant left hand so my mother filled in.” A survivor of cancer surgery, a heart surgery, stroke and many other health issues that had surrounded Tamara’s mother were all put on the back burner as she sacrificed every day of her life caring for her daughter. However, it’s a sacrifice that is well worth it.
A person whose doctor had once said, that she couldn’t even sit up ever, had led teen volunteer programs and arranges free back-to-school events for school children and many more events for seniors and persons with disabilities. Driving around town on her own, Tamara goes to give motivational speeches to the youth, constantly stressing on the importance of overcoming obstacles in life and living life to its fullest. “It was a lot of physiotherapy, strong will, together with God’s grace and mercy, are the hallmarks of my recovery and survival thus far,” says Tamara. “Towards the end of my time at the university, my mother and I started doing our research on persons with physical disabilities and were amazed to discover that there wasn’t a lot offered to them. Together we decided to launch a Charitable Foundation for their benefit.”
Post-secondary education is an integral component of achieving income security, yet people with disabilities are less likely to attend and complete post-secondary education than those without disabilities.
Thus started The Tamara Gordon Foundation. Tamara’s vision was clear: to positively influence, empower and improve the lives of persons with physical disabilities by providing them with the financial, social and practical resources necessary for them to achieve self-supporting status, experience equal opportunity to function as citizens of the community, live fulfilled lives and give back to the community.
Says a grateful Mastoureh Alvandkouhy, an Iranian immigrant who received one such scholarship to a university, thanks to Tamara’s efforts. “As a single mother with financial commitments to school and home, this scholarship will assist me tremendously. This has helped relieve some of the pressures on me.” Another recipient, Wynnikka Matthews, who was born with Brachial Plexus, says that after her mother’s passing away, the scholarship she received from Tamara’s foundation relieved much of her financial burden with tuition and home.
What had initially started as an institution to raise funds for scholarships for universities within the city, is today servicing students from all over the province. Tamara dreams to empower persons with physical disabilities by giving equal opportunities through funding. She firmly believes that no person should ever have to give up studying because they can’t afford it. That’s what drives her life now, awarding grants between $700 up to $2500 each student through all her fundraising efforts.
Tamara’s involvement with the youth with disabilities doesn’t stop at sanctioning scholarships through funds that she receives through sponsors. Her role as a student representative continues to shine through her as she mentors students even after the grants are approved and distributed. “I want my relationship with the students to be very personable. I keep in touch with them throughout the year, encouraging them, following up with them and sticking behind them ensuring that they persevere.”
Not regretting for even a moment, the accident that changed her life forever, Tamara is truly grateful to God for her safekeeping, sustenance, compassionate heart and the inner-strength that He has blessed her with. “I could have been studying law, preparing myself to become a lawyer right now,” says Tamara. Instead, she found the true purpose of her life only because of the accident that took away so much from her. In exchange, it has given her the ability to love, care for and give to others. “He has a plan and a purpose for my life, not to harm me but to use me as a source of blessing and encouragement to others. By so doing, He has lifted me up to higher heights.”
It’s going to be 14 years this month since Tamara had the accident. The doctor had given up on her. “But, I’m still recovering,” she says, “God has carried me safe this far and I’m confident that He who has promised never to leave or forsake me is faithful and true. Therefore, all things are possible with Him. Who knows what tomorrow brings? Right! I’m definitely not giving up.”
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