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Gonzaga Prep student relies on experiences, positive attitude

Thu., Feb. 19, 2009

Carmen Campbell, a 14-year-old freshman at Gonzaga Prep, was given the opportunity of a lifetime when she was awarded a trip to the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing by the U.S. Paralympics Committee, based on an essay she wrote.

Campbell’s adventure started well before she left for China. She was born with scoliosis and began having back surgeries at 2 1/2. She has since had approximately 30 surgeries on her spine. The most successful was an experimental surgery, the Vertical Expandable Prosthetic Titanium Rib, or VEPTR Project. Her surgeries are now pretty much over, unless her fusion breaks. She makes the short trip to Seattle once a year for a check-up.

Campbell hasn’t let her scoliosis or her surgeries impede her. “Believe and achieve. That’s my motto,” she said. Her experiences have been the driving force in her daily life and future goals, along with her positive attitude.

It was her positive attitude and her belief in herself that showed in her essay “What Ability Means to Me” that resulted in her eight-day trip to Beijing. “Not to brag, but for everything that she’s gone through, Carmen is a very intelligent girl,” said her grandmother, Dee Foster. Foster noticed the curvature in Campbell’s spine when she was 2.

During their stay, Campbell and her mother, Donna, experienced a number of Paralympics events: murderball, or quad rugby, track and field, fencing, and Campbell’s favorite, swimming. Her goal by 2012 is to return to the Paralympics, but not as a spectator. She said she wants to compete as a swimmer. “We went and saw all of the swimmers the first day and I was like, yes! Swimming is something I’ve always been able to do. I float,” she said.

Campbell is a member of the Spokane Waves Aquatic Team and is only one of two swimmers on the team with a physical disability.

Campbell is not just a swimmer. In school, she keeps good grades, taking honors biology and algebra. She recently received the President’s Award for Educational Achievement; she is a member of Destination Imagination, a school group that is given a challenge to create a play, including music, sets and costumes, with a set amount of funds; she’s working on a documentary on the war in Iraq titled “Through Our Soldiers Eyes”; and during spring break she will be in Olympia as a Senator Page.

Campbell lives with her mom in Spokane.

Rainey Coffin can be reached at 927-2166 or via e-mail at

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