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February 13, 2002, started out like any other day for Tamara Denise Gordon, but it would end like no other.
Born in Canada to Jamaican parents, the then 16-year-old high school senior and aspiring basketball player was on a skiing trip with her classmates when she had a devastating accident, with caused irreparable injury to her spinal cord.
The accident left her paralysed from the waist down and a brachial plexus injury to her left shoulder, with all the nerves from the spinal cord. The brachial plexus is the network of nerves that conducts signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm and hand. The left-handed student lost the use of her hand and developed diabetes right after the accident.
“The devastating accident changed the course of my life forever,” the now 24-year old said while addressing an audience recently at the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) in Toronto, as part of International Women’s Day celebrations.
“The losses I experienced that day remain with me but the life lessons I learned far outweigh the losses. Many of my dreams were shattered but out of those broken pieces came new hopes, new dreams, and new challenges,” stated Tamara, who was speaking on the topic: ‘Overcoming despite your shortcomings’.
She said she spent months at a rehabilitation centre and even though “I couldn’t do much for myself” the determined and resilient youngster graduated from high school as an Ontario Scholar with an average of more than 90 per cent. She was accepted at three “reputable” universities and chose to attend York University in Toronto.
“I am proud to say that despite the challenges and many setbacks, I am now a graduate of York University with a Bachelor of Administrative Studies, Specialised Honours, with a distinction cum laude and also recognised as a member of the Dean’s Honour Roll,” Tamara said to thunderous applause.
“Although my body is confined to this wheelchair, my mind is not. My body might be impaired, but my mind is vital and vibrant. My body can’t move without help, but my mind is free to soar to great heights and I am capable of great achievements. My body does not define me; it is my mind that determines the level of my achievements,” the confident young woman stated.
The university graduate, who said she wants to be a motivational speaker and touch people’s lives, urged the audience to seek to make a positive impact on others.
“Reaching out to others, helping others. is what makes life worthwhile. You might not be able to change the entire world, but you can make a difference in your corner of the world, by helping someone become a better person and in the process you too will be uplifted,” she pointed out.
The recipient of numerous awards and accolades, Tamara said in life it is not so much what happens to you but what happens in you, that determines your success.
“When I had my accident I had a choice – I could either give in and give up or lift up my head and move ahead. I chose to lift my head up and move ahead. There is never an ill wind that does not blow some good. I looked hard for the good and I learnt that it’s from adversities that the will to win is strengthened. This Jamaican Canadian decided that she had a lot more fight in her than any skiing accident could destroy,” she stated.
Paying tribute to her mother, Marcia, Tamara said: “fi mi muuma neva raise no quitter.”
“Thank God for a mom, who is so committed to my success that she has forgotten what tiredness means. When her legs get tired she finds a way to stand. When she’s out of energy she somehow finds a second wind. I owe her a debt I will never be able to repay,” she stated.
The Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA), which is 48 years old this year, paid tribute through its Women’s Committee, to several members who have made sterling contributions to the organisation. These included first female president Kamala-Jean Gopie, Marcia Brown, Marie Chapman, Tamara Simone Gordon, Rosemarie Hylton and Kristy Salmon.
Presentations were made to them by Dr. Lola Ramocan, wife of Jamaica’s Consul General; and former Mayor of Toronto and now Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Barbara Hall.
Consul General to Toronto, George Ramocan, congratulated the awardees for the difference they are making and paid tribute to women in general, for the work they are doing in maintaining the stability of society.
“I want to salute women who are single mothers and head of their households; and who have sons who are teenagers. It is not particularly easy for you to manage but you are doing it. I want to salute you for being in the work place and doing double shifts in order to make your homes a place that is comfortable,” he stated.