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Alec Giakas on falling and rising again

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

How did you demonstrate perseverance as a youth?

Throughout my childhood, my mother instilled the notion that “success in life depends on how hard you work.” As a child, this principle rang especially true regarding sports, as I devoted countless hours in the pool and on the field to achieve athletic success. In seventh grade, I accomplished my goal of becoming a nationally ranked swimmer, and by eighth grade, I was voted my middle school’s Athlete of the Year. However, sophomore year, a sudden dose of reality left me vulnerable.

What major life event changed your course?

Sophomore year, I qualified for the Swimming State Championships in butterfly, my best stroke. My mother, however, was reluctant to allow my participation due to a persistent and increasing pain in my lower back. Soon thereafter, Dr. Shah, an orthopedic specialist, diagnosed my pain as Stage Four Spondylolisthesis. He declared, “If this condition progresses any further, your vertebrae will sever your spinal cord, leaving you paralyzed from the waist down.” Faced with the gravity of my injury, I underwent an eight-hour spinal fusion of my L5 to S1 vertebrae on January 29, 2014.

Tell us how you once again demonstrated perseverance:

After the surgery, I remembered my pre-op conversation with Dr. Shah, “The faster you start moving, the faster you will recover.” With my typical drive, I attempted to move, but excruciating pain signaled that I would need assistance to walk even a few steps. However, with support from my family, both physical and emotional, I walked that same day.

How did you get involved with the Special Olympics?

I had taken physical activity for granted. As I struggled to regain my own strength, however, I realized that others are not as fortunate as I previously had been. Motivated by my experience, I decided to utilize my own abilities to support others. Therefore, I volunteered to teach swimming for the Special Olympics Program, helping those athletes develop their own talents and gifts. After working with the Delaware Special Olympics my senior year in high school, I moved to Columbia, South Carolina to attend the University of South Carolina.

How would you sum up your Carolina experience thus far?

Since moving to South Carolina, I have fallen in love with the culture, the food, and the people; UofSC has helped to increase my love for the state by providing a friendly, welcoming atmosphere which encourages personal growth. The University has helped me achieve several personal goals. First, I was accepted into the Honors College’s BARSC-MD program, an accelerated, early acceptance medical school program through the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Columbia. Then, I was elected Vice President of the Honors Residence. Meanwhile, I met an amazing group of friends, developing lifelong relationships. Although my story in South Carolina is short, I am excited to accumulate more experiences, opportunities, and relationships in the Carolina Community.

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