Tomkinson's determination shines

September 21, 2006, volume 37, no. 2
By Marianne Meadahl

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Determination, a little technical help, and a refusal to give in are all factors in SFU student Jocelyn Tomkinson's academic success. They'll continue to guide her future.

The SFU undergraduate student was born with a tumor on her spinal cord that prevented her spine from developing properly. Numerous surgeries throughout her life caused a buildup of scar tissue and inflammation—and eventually led to an incurable pain condition. The active wheelchair athlete was forced to withdraw from school to deal with debilitating chronic pain.

But thanks to recent surgery and a lot of perseverance, Tomkinson, a biology major, returned to school a year after pain first interrupted her studies. An implanted biomedical
device delivers medication that makes it possible for her to function despite her condition. "Pain is still a daily reality for me," concedes Tomkinson, "but as soon as the pump worked I didn't look back."

Tomkinson is this year's recipient of SFU's Terry Fox gold medal. This award is given to an individual who shows courage in adversity and dedication to society, qualities which were exemplified by Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope.

Despite her disability, which left her in a wheelchair by the age of eight, Tomkinson maintained an active schedule, taking on a full course load while playing as an alternate on the national wheelchair basketball team and working at a part-time job. She stopped school after her second year, needing some time to refocus and determine her priorities, and went to work as a youth advocate and research assistant at B.C. Children's Hospital. She also spent six months in Northern Ireland and Kosovo working with youth affected by conflict. While the experiences renewed her interest in health and development, she returned to SFU, where a new faculty of health sciences was being launched.

"My experience overseas and in health care locally was compounded when I experienced chronic illness myself," admits Tomkinson. "I wondered how people with chronic illnesses survived in developing countries." Tomkinson completed her bachelor's degree and begins her master of global health program as a part of the faculty of health science's first cohort in January.

Tomkinson will receive her award during SFU's Terry Fox day on September 21, at a ceremony in convocation mall at 11:40 am. The annual campus run/walk will follow.

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