Running to win: High School athlete won`t let blindness stop her

Running to win: High School athlete won`t let blindness stop her

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

High school athletics are a great way for teens to be a part of something positive, but imagine if you or your child had to do that favorite activity with your eyes shut.

Welcome to the world of 16-year-old Jhaliyah Anderson, who runs the 100 yard dash for Thornton Fractional South High School. Anderson is blind, but refuses to let it slow her down in any aspect of life--especially on the track.

"I love it," Anderson says of the sport. "I don't like to be just sitting around. I get really irritated with being not active."

She and her friend Jazmin Scott have bonded this year as part of the sophomore track team. Jhaliyah and Jazmin hold hands as they run, each step requiring a great deal of trust on Jhaliyah's part as they race as fast as they can together.

"Sometimes I almost do let go of her hand and that's slows me down, most of the time actually, but you get used to it," Jhaliyah explains.

"It's fun running with her because it's like, I don't know, I just get a rush," running partner Jazmin Scott says. "It's fun and then like, she does good she actually does really good."

Jhaliya was actually born with sight, but when she was still an infant her father noticed something troubling about her eyes and doctors discovered she had cancer.

"Jhaliyah was diagnosed with retinal blastoma at about age six months and at age three she lost her vision," Jhaliyah's mother explains. "I think that we were more worried than anything, just trying to understand what must this be like and how's this going to be for her."

Doctors told Sonya and Coleman Anderson they could treat Jhaliya's cancer with chemotherapy, but it would very likely come back. Their only other option was for surgery to completely remove the cancer, but it came with a price. It left Jhaliyah completely blind.

"I wasn't surprised," Sonya Anderson says in response to her daughter's decision to try the sport. "Prior to running track she had already been on the cheerleading team, and standing on the top of pyramids, so that was kinda a little unnerving to see that so this was kinda a better thing, so at least you're just running straight."

"It's not a problem, she rode a bike when she was seven years old, straight down the street," Jhaliya's father says. "I mean that's just one of the things that she just wants to do, period. As long as she's got it in her mind, that's what she wants to do, that's exactly what she's going to do, I'm gonna support her."

At a sunny track meet later in the season with only a teacher's aide clapping so Jhaliyah would know where to run, she also took on the challenge of the long jump.

"For me personally, she has blown me away," says track coach Stephen Nelson. "Just the amount of desire to be out here, you always look at the athletes that want to be here and the athletes that complain when they have to do the workout, and just to see a young lady that comes out here and works her but off and never complains about everything, really kind of rejuvenated me a little bit as a coach."

Not only does Jhaliyah compete on the track, she also excels in the classroom, earning high honors in her courses. She uses braille reading materials, but is held to the same standards as her classmates.

Her World History Teacher calls her a "wonderful student" who is a "hard worker."

Jhaliyah says success drives her.

"I just want to be able to like graduate high school, and not be someone that's, not be one of those visually impaired, like any person with a disability that's like afraid of the world," she says. "I just want to do stuff and just have fun, like I don't want to be sad and lonely, I just want to be normal."

Her coach would argue Jhaliya is more than normal; she's exceptional.

"I don't think there's anything that's ever going to hold that girl back," Stephen Nelson says. "She is determined and she won't take anyone telling her she can't do anything."

In this race, Jhaliya and Jazmin almost won, but in her father's eyes, Jhaliya will always be a winner.

"I couldn't ask for any daughter better than this one right here," Coleman says. "This girl is great man."

Jhaliya says her goal after graduating from high school is to go to college and earn a degree in social therapy. She wants to help visually impaired people or others with disabilities learn to live life to the fullest and in her words, "not be afraid."

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