RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- In anticipation of the upcoming summer Olympics in Rio, Ridgefield Academy recently held its own Olympic Opening Ceremony and presented a Greenwich girl with its Olympic Spirit Award.
The Olympic Spirit Award traditionally honors an individual who has exhibited the personal fortitude and dedication necessary to be an Olympic level athlete. This year, the Academy chose to recognize Nicole Graham, a young woman whose courage, heart and determination helped her overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
Graham, whose journey was chronicled in an ESPN profile story, which can be viewed by clicking here , gave an inspirational message at the ceremony about the strength of the human spirit, the importance of friendship and the power of a positive attitude.
In September of 2012, the then 16 year-old straight A student and three-sport varsity athlete in her junior year at Greenwich High School was diagnosed with Leukemia. Just weeks after beginning treatment, Graham went into sepsis shock and had to be placed in a medically induced coma.
While in the coma, she suffered strokes on both sides of her brain, and awakened completely paralyzed and unable to speak.
After being moved to a rehabilitation facility, and still undergoing cancer treatments, her real battle began.
“I had to learn to redo everything,” she told the students. “But I had to have faith that everything was going to work out.”
While Graham’s determination kept her moving forward during her exhaustive rehab, she credits the overwhelming support of her family, friends and teammates for buoying her spirits and feeding her positive attitude.
She pushed herself to the limit, and after only 2 months of intense rehabilitation, Graham surprised everyone, especially her doctors, when she returned to the sidelines of the lacrosse field to cheer on her team that following spring.
By the next fall, less than a year after her diagnosis and paralysis, she was able to join her field hockey team on the field.
Now entering her junior year at Dartmouth College, Graham plays club lacrosse and is hoping to complete a double major in economics and psychology.
Her cancer is in remission, but she told the students that her illness has given her a different perspective on life.
“Always remember to stay positive,” she encouraged the students. “Never give up, no matter what comes your way. Nothing can stop you with the help of friends, family, and a positive attitude."