Gold Medal Award Recipient - Sarah Roberts

Sarah Roberts's Story

On Jan. 20, 2014, undergrad Sarah Roberts suddenly lost the ability to sit, stand, live alone, go to school or work, or live a functional life.

She had developed a rare, inherited, connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome that causes multiple, debilitating conditions. These include an autonomic nervous system condition named Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Scoliosis, Occipital Neuralgia, and much more. She faced a bedridden life of chronic pain, and pursuing her academic career seemed hopeless.

Despite her new reality of life-changing chronic illness, however, Roberts was determined to learn to walk again.

Two years later, with the help of a team of doctors, she took her first steps and set her sights on resuming her studies at SFU. She started by taking one online course when she was still bedridden.

“I came back to school with a humbled realization that every day at school is a blessing,” she says today.

She recently finished a BA in psychology and she is overjoyed and inspired by her new chance at life.

Roberts’ courage has earned her SFU’s 2018 Terry Fox Gold Medal for a student who has demonstrated courage in the face of adversity and possesses qualities of a role model. The award includes $5,000, a gold medal and a plaque which will be presented to her at this year’s Terry Fox event on Sept. 28 at the Burnaby campus.

"I am honoured and humbled to even be mentioned in the same breath as Terry Fox. He not only suffered and endured something most of us cannot even fathom, he found purpose through his perseverance. He could have easily allowed his excruciating pain to become the sole focus of the remaining moments of his life. When your daily symptoms scream for attention, it's easy to forget about others, but Terry Fox never did. Terry Fox allowed his pain to become his mission, and because of that choice, he continues to help people today. His dedication to society continuously inspires me in my own journey with illness."

Despite her debilitating conditions, Roberts is determined to encourage others with chronic illnesses to find joy. She is passionate about creating a sense of belonging and demonstrating that their worth is not dependent on physical or mental well-being.

She created @StrongerThanPots, an Instragram, Facebook and website community for 13,000 people with chronic illnesses and their caregivers. She is also a published author on The Mighty, a website that provides voice, strength and hope for individuals suffering chronic illness.

Now, she no longer thinks of her chronic illness as a death sentence, but as an opportunity to fight for others with chronic illnesses.

“The hardest two years of my life taught me that courage isn’t a synonym for strength. Courage means feeling like you can’t go on but doing so anyway.”