Now Reading
Fierce Awards – The 2023 Class

Fierce Awards – The 2023 Class

The annual Fierce Awards, presented by Scorpio, are back! Guide hosts the Fierce Awards to recognize women who have changed Greater Gainesville through their entrepreneurial, charitable or executive work. But more than that, these wonderful women have bettered their community through their character, grace and, of course, ferocity.  


Amber Miller  

President and CEO, United Way of North Central Florida 

As the president and CEO of one of the largest nonprofits in the state, Amber Miller believes that to be fierce is to have tenacious courage and to step up rather than down when life gets tough.  

 Her professional background is in marketing, advertising and journalism. She stumbled into the nonprofit field while she and her husband were in the process of adopting their son. While taking time off to prepare for being a stay-at-home mom, the process took longer than expected and she started volunteering. From there, she used her skills to impact lives, not just the company she worked for.   

 Miller leads with honesty, integrity and empathy. The United Way of North Central Florida is focused on improving the health, education and financial stability of people living in Alachua, Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties. Her job is to manage the day-to-day operations, oversee a team of 12 employees and collaborate with the board of directors to strategize for the future of the organization.  

 “In general, my goal is to leave things better off than when I found them. Specifically, I want to leave my team, our company culture, better off. Actually, I want our team and culture to be the best period. I want to lead United Way into the future with strategies in place that will take our community to a whole new level by incorporating innovation into how we fundraise and address the needs of our community.”


Brande Smith 

Senior Counsel, University of Florida 

For attorney Brande Smith, being fierce is about acting with conviction and perseverance towards achieving a goal, solving a problem or making a change.  

She is fierce in her day job as the senior counsel for the University of Florida as well as in her personal life where she has navigated through a divorce and cancer diagnosis. Smithhe represents UF in lawsuits, federal enforcement investigations and legal complaints.  

She believes that every person experiences setbacks and battle wounds in life, but it is how they get through them defines who they are.  

In addition to her work as an attorney, Smith enjoys mentoring teenagers, college students and young professionals about their futures, dreams and goals. She also wants to draw from her own personal experience and write a book or blog with advice for single moms on how to navigate online dating in a safe and successful manner.  

She leads by empowering others to be the best they can be and encouraging them to focus on their strengths to achieve their goals. 

“I live each day to the fullest without regret, leaning into personal growth, staying focused on the things that are truly important to me, all while striving to be the best version of myself.”  


Carrie Grotto 

Owner/therapist, Sojourn Counseling 

Carrie Grotto is a therapist who desires to have an individual and long-lasting impact on others. She started her practice, Sojourn Counseling, in 2011 to help people in the community.  

She believes a fierce woman is one who faces challenges with grit and passion. A fierce woman does not give up on her goals and stands strong in the face of adversity.  

Grotto’s goal for her clients is that each walks away feeling heard, accepted and inspired to be a healthier version of themselves who positively impacts those around them. She also has a similar goal for her children. Grotto wants them to discover who they were created to be and to use that knowledge to improve the world. 

She has carved her path in the counseling industry by staying true to her principles even if it meant turning down bigger opportunities. She wants to care for people first and not be sidetracked by larger corporations. 

“When I began Sojourn, business was slow. It took years of consistency and hard work to build up clientele and turn Sojourn into a sustainable center. Now the large majority of my clients are acquired by word of mouth. This is the biggest compliment and I am proud of the therapist I have become and the name I have acquired in the counseling community.”  


Christina Ramos 

Executive Director & Administrator, Touching Hearts at Home 

It was a challenge for Christina Ramos when she returned to Gainesville and started a new job at Touching Hearts at Home. But her hard work and determination paid off as she was able to blaze a path in the caregiving industry and do what she is most passionate about –– serving seniors in the community.  

As executive director and administrator of Touching Hearts at Home, Ramos and her staff serve clients and their families 24/7, 365. She oversees the care team and approximately 100 certified nursing assistants and home health aides.  

She believes that being fierce is a state of mind and knowing that strength comes from her thoughts, attitudes and beliefs. It is also being confident in the God-given talent and skills each person has.  

“Fierce is grit, it’s perseverance and determination to do the very best and be the very best each and every day while striving to be better than the day before. It’s knowing that no one is perfect, but together, we can all learn and grow with each experience and lesson. Fierceness is remembering to believe in yourself, even when others may not, and knowing that you have the power to take control of any situation and to make any necessary actions and course corrections.”  


Dr. Melissa Cere 

Co-owner, Kinetix Physical Therapy 

Melissa Cere opened Kinetix Physical Therapy in 2008 with her husband. It was the first local clinic to offer class IV laser therapy, musculoskeletal diagnostic ultrasound and nerve conduction studies. 

She sees fierce as a resiliency to stay true to oneself, beliefs and goals no matter the challenges they face. Cere leads by example, empowering others to grow and reach their potential in whatever role they are in. 

As an owner of Kinetix Physical Therapy, she works with her team to make a unique impact in the life of everyone who comes through the door. They work to “Raise the Bar – create memorable connections, embrace innovation and over deliver on excellence.” 

In addition to the business, Cere founded a nonprofit ministry in 2015 in honor of her mother who died in 2013 after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Widowhood Workshop helps raise awareness to the impact of loss and dealing with life after it. Since 2019, it has held events in 22 states.  

“As a female entrepreneur, it’s a tough balance sometimes between your business growth and your personal responsibilities as a wife and mother. Playing that jack-of-all-trades role can be exhausting, but I do believe that in sharing my own personal experiences and growth over the past 14 years in that role, I could help provide some perspective to other businesswomen in our community.” 


Dr. Miranda Whitmer 

Dermatologist/Partner, Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery 

Dr. Miranda Whitmer faced nearly impossible odds when she was younger. She was estranged from her family senior year of high school and had to fend for herself. Rather than accepting her circumstances, Whitmer rose above them, finished school and was accepted to Emory University.  

She graduated at the top of her class, went to medical school and was accepted into the top postgraduate dermatology residency. Locally, Whitmer has been recognized as the area’s best dermatologist numerous times.  

For almost two decades she has treated more than 1,200 different cancers and helped more than 150 people move forward in their careers to becoming physician assistants and doctors.  

For her, the word fierce means being relentless and refusing to give up. It also means to have a passion for life and to persist in the face of adversity. Whitmer approaches her life with intensity and a fierce love for her family, community and patients.  

 “I do not believe that it does women any good to concentrate on the stigmas, stereotypes and double standards that I admit women have today. I refuse to be a victim, and you should too. That glass ceiling people try to place on you defines them and not you. I shattered that and am already three floors higher. Come on up and join me, because it feels great!” 


Erin Porter 

Manager, Public Relations and Marketing, Gainesville Regional Airport  

Erin Porter has had a storied professional life before becoming manager at Gainesville Regional Airport.  

She worked as director of protocol for British billionaire and entrepreneur, Richard Branson, and helped him navigate his trip around the world in a manned balloon. Porter also did media relations for the National Park Service’s Centennial of Flight Celebration at Wright Brothers National Memorial in 2003.  

For her, fierce means expecting the unexpected, rolling with the punches, putting out fires gracefully without getting severely burned, helping a team through challenges and making it out on the other side with a smile.  

Porter comes from an aviation family and seeks to make an impact by staying positive, truthful and honoring the industry she loves. At Gainesville Regional Airport, she handles public relations, media relations, marketing and advertising, special events, government relations and air service development.  

“Life is not a puff piece. At times, it is hard, frustrating, disappointing, devastating. I firmly believe the overriding characteristics that win out and shine through are love, luck and light, so I try hard to not get in their way. I am also a firm believer that the best is yet to come, so I am rarely afraid to go through the tough stuff.” 


Jennifer Lester 

Partner, Avera & Smith  

Attorney Jennifer Lester faces challenges head-on and enjoys helping people through the scary and confusing world of lawsuits. As a partner at Avera & Smith, she works on estate and trust litigation. She chose that field to help real people rather than big insurance companies after working as a defense attorney.   

Lester also works as a mentor to associates and younger women in the field to help them succeed. She believes that passion translates into fierceness because people are fierce about their passions.  

Lester is also a breast cancer survivor. She chose to treat the disease aggressively by having a double mastectomy with reconstruction against the advice of her doctor. Had she not chosen that route, she would have needed many rounds of chemotherapy or radiation.   

“I really love what I do, and I think I’ve carved out a unique space for myself in the community I love. I was able to do what I wanted to do, and probably what I was meant to do, while having my kids and enjoying their childhoods. It wasn’t always easy, and there have been a few times in the last few years when I’ve seen that look on a young lawyer’s face –– when I know they have little kids and work and are overwhelmed. I can say, ‘I’ve been there, and it’s hard, but it will all be okay, and it gets easier and easier.’”  


Kayla Turner 

Property Manager, Contemporary Management Concepts 

Kayla Turner lives her life with confidence that there is nothing too difficult for her to face. She has survived an aggressive form of breast cancer and improved the lives of many community members.  

She believes being fierce is being on fire for life. It is also a graceful, passionate eagerness in overcoming obstacles while igniting the flame in others who want to live with the same tenacity.  

As a property manager, she manages several luxury apartment communities in Gainesville. Truner also works with her team to improve the assets of their owners and investors. She tackles her challenges head on and with no fear.  

Turner’s ultimate goal is to develop others so that they feel confident to move onto the next steps of their lives. When she leads, she steps aside and lets her team make decisions so they gain that experience and confidence.  

Her greatest achievement is that when she felt the weakest and most fatigued she still gave her absolute best professionally. She did not let the cancer stop her from doing her job.   

“I went to work after chemo treatments to finish deadlines,” she said. “I climbed flights of stairs to inspect units when I could barely catch my breath. I came back from medical leave and jumped right into taking on one of the greatest challenges that property managers face: managing a new construction project. My team and I successfully leased it up to 100% in less than a year.” 


Lacey Jones 

Associate Vice President, Marketing & Strategic Communications, Infotech 

Lacey Jones believes that to be a fierce woman, she must first recognize her impact and how it creates a ripple effect. From there, it is about choosing to leverage those effects to make the world a better place.  

 At Infotech, she serves a unique role by overseeing marketing and corporate communications. While most organizations separate those departments, Jones fills both roles.  

 She believes being fierce is knowing how to influence others and making an intentional decision to use that for good. A fierce woman is also respected because she is someone who people want to be around.  

 Jones leads with an inclusive and transparent approach. She goes out of her way to demonstrate how she trusts her team. She includes the team members in all her decision making and they reciprocate the same thing.   

 “A fierce woman is someone you want to learn from, follow and know personally. Fierce is not scary. There’s a big difference between fierce and scary. A scary leader intimidates people and makes others feel inferior, while a fierce leader shows compassion and lifts others up. Fierce is the exact type of person and leader I try to be. At the end of the day, I want to be the best version of myself so I can help others pursue their full potential.”  


Melissa Long 

Assistant Vice President of Talent Management, University of Florida Advancement 

Melissa Long leads the talent management team at the University of Florida Advancement. It focuses on talent acquisition, talent development, career and organizational development and human resource excellence, as well as maintaining a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion.  

She believes to be fierce is to be steadfast, true to oneself and to make an impact by building and lifting others up. 

Through her job at the university she works to make a difference with diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. She believes that every person can add value to the world if their strengths are maximized. Long leads her department by doing just that. She also leads by example and will not ask anyone to do something she would not.  

Some of her biggest accomplishments are the growth, development and promotion of different members of her team and those she has mentored on campus. Personally, her biggest accomplishments are marrying her husband 22 years ago and raising their three children.  

Above all, Long works hard to make her family a priority, accept others and be approachable, unassuming and build up those around her.  

“I enjoy cultivating growth on my team and serving as a mentor to many colleagues within Advancement and across campus. When challenges arise, I take a collaborative approach and talk with trusted colleagues to bounce ideas and keep me ‘in check’ to ensure I’m considering a well-rounded approach.” 


Minde Prince O’Sullivan 

President, Rex & Brody Foundation 

Minde Prince O’Sullivan suffered an unimaginable loss May 4, 2021, when her two sons died from domestic violence. Rex, 14, and Brody, 11, were her life, but rather than giving up when they died, she made a conscious decision to be strong for them and to do something good.  

So she started the Rex & Brody Foundation in their honor. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to educate, empower and equip youth through the game of baseball.   

In less than two years, the foundation has sponsored different boys and girls sports teams to play in tournaments throughout the country. It is also in the process of starting three local projects to upgrade public recreational facilities in Alachua County.  

Additionally, O’Sullivan is working with state leaders to pass the Rex and Brody Reinhart Bill that would prohibit the public from accessing the autopsy reports of minors killed through domestic violence.  

For her, being fierce is making the daily decision to be a better, stronger and more supportive person.  

“I lead by example. I have had multiple reasons to lie down and just give up.  I have chosen to be strong and am dedicated to making a difference.  Every day is a challenge for me, but I stand up and face the day in honor of my boys, other children and other women who have suffered as I have. This is what my boys would have wanted.” 


Monica McMillen 

Attorney, Law Offices of Monica McMillen, P.A. 

Attorney Monica McMillen owns a law office that focuses on helping others during very difficult situations like divorce, custody battles or domestic violence situations.  

She believes fierce goes hand-in-hand with determination and that a fierce woman is one who balances her boldness, intellect and intensity with grace and steadiness.  

In her career as an attorney, McMillen has also served as a volunteer guardian ad litem with the Eighth Judicial Circuit. In this role, she is the legal representative or voice of a child in family law situations.  

She has also worked with various local nonprofit organizations and served as the board chairwoman for the United Way of North Central Florida for two years. McMillen is the current president-elect of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association.  

She said she and her family love helping others and that one day she would love to run a practice focused on pro bono family litigation.  

“I don’t view or consider myself as a role model. I view myself as someone who is simply passionate about helping others. I’ve made many mistakes personally and professionally. My hope is that others don’t view me as a guidepost but see through me as someone who points to truth, peace and justice when necessary.”  


Ronna Jackson 

Chaplain/ Blessing Bucket Event Coordinator, American Legion Auxiliary 

Ronna Jackson serves as the American Legion Auxiliary chaplain and the coordinator for its annual Blessing Bucket event for homeless or transitioning veterans. She believes fierce is showing great energy and enthusiasm to everyone, as well as making a difference in their lives.  

She began working with the military and its veterans to fulfill a promise to her son, SSG John Reiners, who was killed in action on February 13, 2010. She said her life changed forever when she received that knock on the door and she promised him she would take care of his brothers and sisters in arms.   

As the chaplain, Jackson opens and closes every American Legion Auxiliary meeting with prayer. She also sends cards to members and visits those in the hospital and other places.  

Jackson does her best to lead with her actions and by engaging in open and honest communication so she can make personal connections with her team. She also stays positive and motivated when facing challenges.   

“I do my best to demonstrate both confidence and respect to the people I’m working with and for. Having the knowledge and also the humility to admit that I have made mistakes along the way. It is important for the women of our community to be able to communicate and interact with others and not be afraid to speak up for what they believe in.”  


Sarah Cain 

Principal, Sarah Cain Design 

Interior designer Sarah Cain is passionate about empowering women. She works to encourage her clients by creating spaces that support their lives and simply the way they live.  

For her, fierce means creating new paths, listening to the inner voice, defining the journey and providing opportunities so that others may pursue their own dreams.  

She tries to provide strength and support to those around her. She also pushes her limits and constantly challenges herself.  

Cain went to graduate school to work on a masters degree in interior design when she was 38 years old and a mother of two. She had to pull a weekly all-nighter to complete her school work after taking care of her kids, but she made it work and finished the job.  

During her career, Cain has had numerous accomplishments including being a two-time recipient of the Gator 100 award, the 2019 Chamber of Commerce Women Owned Business of the Year award, the UF distinguished alumni award and giving the 2020 fall commencement address for the UF School of Design Construction and Planning. However, she believes her most rewarding experience is raising her sons.   

“Being Fierce to me means having the confidence to listen to my own intuition, to forge my own path, to value who I am as an individual and uplift those around me.” 


Shannon Sumerlin 

Director of Development, University of Florida Law 

Shannon Sumerlin believes that life is meant to be enjoyed and that everyone should have the opportunity to pursue what makes them happy.  

For her, fierceness is an inner fire, and to be fierce is to have a desire to pursue the path no matter the obstacle. It is not a personality trait or characteristic. Rather it embodies the whole person and the strength of a soul. 

As the director of development of UF Law, Sumerlin leads a team that focuses on engaging with alumni across the nation and connecting them back to the school. She also focuses on fundraising for scholarships and programs as well as finding opportunities to align individuals’ passions by helping students through mentoring, teaching or collaborating.  

She believes that leaders should listen, reflect, trust their team and act decisively.  

Sumerlin is invested in the success of others and spends a lot of her free time ensuring that other women have clear paths forward and know that she is a resource if they need her.  

“I am devoted to the path I have created. It is a sense of purpose to continue working with the young women I encounter. They will truly change the world. I want my children to see that each individual is an important part of making the world better. I want to ensure that the happiness I have found in life is available to others and they know how to achieve that goal.”  


Shereka Nicole, M.Ed 

Founder and CEO, Premier Moms 

Shereka Nicole founded Premier Moms to support mothers by providing training, mentoring, coaching and networking opportunities. She wanted to help moms feel empowered to achieve their dreams and goals as they go through motherhood. 

In her role as founder and CEO, Nicole represents the organization in the community and conducts all corporate and partnership meetings. She also motivates, trains and empowers all the moms and staff. 

She believes to be fierce is to go after dreams and goals with the determination to succeed no matter the obstacles or how long it takes.  

See Also

Nicole faces challenges by focusing on the bigger picture. Through the setbacks and weaknesses, she learned she has a voice that needs to be used to lift others up. As a cancer survivor, she does that by being on the UF Health Cancer Center Steering Committee to help women in the community understand the importance of early detection.  

Ultimately, she wants to empower and encourage as many moms and women as possible.  

“I am a Fierce woman because I believe that anyone can succeed with the right connections and resources. I go after my dreams and goals with passion and determination. Lastly, I want to continue serving in the community in any way I can in order for more women and moms to know that they are beautiful, brilliant and fierce!” 


Staci Bertrand, MBA, M.Ed 

Government and Community Relations Manager, Duke Energy 

Staci Bertrand believes fierce is the ability to go through trials and remain purpose driven. In 2019, her husband died unexpectedly in an accident. She went from having a life partner to raising four sons by herself. Bertrand was resilient and did not give up. She went from surviving to thriving and successfully navigating the shift to being a single parent. 

She leads through interpersonal relationships, deep connections and celebrating others for who they are and not what they can do. She also tackles challenges with an optimistic approach and chooses to see the glass half full.  

In her position at Duke Energy, Bertrand manages the government and community relations for their utility operations in Alachua, Citrus, Hernando, Levy, Marion and Sumter counties as well as building strong relationships with the local governments and nonprofits that support their philanthropic goals. 

Bertrand is responsible for advancing Duke Energy’s vision of building a smarter energy future which includes the commitment of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.   

“I want to be a light and brighten any space I walk into by being kind to others, impacting their lives through leadership and doing a great job with each task at hand. I am fulfilled when I can help organizations solve community problems as well as when I can support non-profits in reaching their goals. In addition, I enjoy making an impact in the business sector through industry initiatives.” 


Stephanie Marchman 

Attorney/Shareholder, GrayRobinson 

Stephanie Marchman believes that to be fierce is to stand up for what is right when it is hard, to show up for others, to persevere and to lead with heart.    

She is an attorney and shareholder with GrayRobinson, a law firm with 15 offices and 300 attorneys throughout the state. She is based in Gainesville and represents businesses, governmental entities and nonprofit organizations in situations involving labor, employment, civil rights, business disputes and the Sunshine Law. Additionally, she serves as general counsel to a number of nonprofits.   

Marchman leads with integrity and hard work. She tackles challenges with the end in mind. She takes time to understand the challenge and determines ways to overcome it.  

Professionally, she has been a part of several high profile cases in Florida and was also elected to represent all the lawyers in the local judicial circuit to represent them on the Florida Bar Board of Governors.  

During her 18 years as an attorney, Marchman and her husband have also been raising their two children to work hard and treat others with kindness and respect. She is most proud of her family and the career she’s been able to develop with their support.  

 “I am Fierce because I use my position as a lawyer to help my clients and my community, and I do so while being the best wife, mom, daughter, sister and friend I can be.”   


Tammy Dygert 

Director, startGNV 

Tammy Dygert directs a nonprofit organization that aims to grow the innovation ecosystem of Greater Gainesville. In her role, she collaborates with passionate individuals to support that mission.  

She believes a fierce woman has the ability to do something for the greater good with an unrestrained passion that aligns with her core values.  

In this position and in her past ones, she leads by mission, which has served her well. The mission is like a compass that helps her stay focused on what matters and corrects the course if she gets distracted by other things that come up. 

Dygert also leads by being vulnerable with her staff so that they feel comfortable asking for help when they need it. She also collaborates and surrounds herself with people who trust her to come up with a solution.  

She wants to make an impact to help the community discover their best selves and connect to resources that will help them on their journey, whatever it is.   

“I am determined to find solutions to help others when I can, and I allow myself to show vulnerability when I can’t. My passion for lifelong learning is just as  important as my passion for leading. I will always explore new paths whenever necessary to make myself better which is what has helped build my ‘fierce’ muscles – muscles I didn’t even know I had.” 


Tatila Paul 

Director of Programs, The Education Foundation of Alachua County 

Tatila Paul lives her life making an impact through education. As director of programs for the Education Foundation of Alachua County, she helps many high school students –– hundreds of which are at-risk and low income –– find college scholarships and prepare for success in higher education.  

She and her staff at the foundation have awarded $700,000 in scholarships to high school seniors annually and $110,00 in teacher support.  

For Paul, being fierce is obtaining the knowledge and strength to advocate for what is right in order to make the world a better place by living a purpose-driven life.  

She leads with commitment and purpose and is a firm believer in mentorship. Paul seeks out advice and does the necessary research to overcome obstacles in the way of achieving her goals, her team’s goals and the goals of those she mentors.   

When experiencing challenges, especially in conflict resolution, she works to communicate the problem, provide possible solutions and then act.  

Paul uses her setbacks, weaknesses and negative experiences as motivation to keep moving. She said those experiences have brought compassionate people into her life who support and guide her along her path to success. 

“I am fierce because I’m not afraid to face and overcome adversity head-on to help myself and others live a life with dignity and pride.” 


Zabel Thur de Koos 

Broker/owner, Lexis Real Estate Group 

Zabel Thur de Koos started working at a young age and has always had a love of real estate. She currently owns the Lexis Real Estate Group. It represents commercial and residential customers in and around Gainesville. She is also the managing partner of Nalbandian Properties, a real estate investment company her father founded.  

She believes fierce means a calm toughness exemplified by determination to succeed.  

Thur de Koos started her career working for the family business. She cleaned the apartments they owned for little to no pay. She then moved through different roles in the industry.  

She leads by listening to people around her and merging their insights with hers to achieve results. When it comes to challenges, Thur de Koos tackles them by strategizing with her team to determine the best approach to solve the problem. Her recipe for success is hard work and being nice and respectful to others.   

In her weaknesses, she sees opportunities to improve herself by being aware of what she is good at and when she needs to ask for help. 

“What makes me a fierce woman is that I challenge myself and don’t ever give up. I’m nice to people while working diligently to achieve the goals I’ve set.” 


Lori Emmer Cain Legacy Award Winner

Mary Chance 

President, CEO, Consortium of Florida Education Foundations 

Mary Chance, president and CEO of the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations, is the inaugural recipient of the new Lori Emmer Cain Legacy Award.  

The award recognizes a fierce woman who exemplifies Cain’s qualities as a trailblazer committed to continuous improvement of the local community.  

As president and CEO of the consortium, Chance holds the senior-most position there. She has worked in that role since 2008. 

“My late mother believed there was no problem in the world that couldn’t be solved through communication or education,” said Chance. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my career has revolved around both those fields. I strive to have an impact by using my communication and advocacy skills to innovate learning and power the potential of Florida’s students.” 

Before leading the Consortium, Chance was executive director of the Alachua County Education Foundation for 10 years. She leads by making connections between people, ideas, organizations and opportunities.  

“I look for common ground between our mission and the goals of the businesses and organizations we interact with in Florida and nationwide,” she said. “I get energized and my entrepreneurial spirit kicks in when we discover alignment and can make things happen for students and teachers.” 


Fierce Awards Keynote Speaker

Victoria Arlen 

Victoria Arlen has battled many different things in her life and won them all. At age 11, she was diagnosed with two rare neurological disorders, Transverse Myelitis and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis.  

For five years, she fought to stay alive. For four years of that battle, she was locked within herself in vegetative state. She could not communicate with anyone and suffered as many as 20 seizures a day. She was also paralyzed from the waist down for 10 years.  

Even with those illnesses, Arlen was a swimmer and athlete and was able to fulfill her dream of competing in the Olympic Games. In 2010, she returned to the pool and qualified for the 2012 Paralympics Games in London. There she competed in four different events where she set a world record, won a gold medal and three silver medals. 

After the Paralympics, Arlen became one of the youngest hosts hired by ESPN and covered different sporting events all over the world.  

During this time, Arlen was confined to a wheelchair but was determined to walk again. She began doing aggressive activity-based paralysis recovery therapy at Project Walk San Diego. In 2016, she took her first step and a year later she competed on Dancing with the Stars. 

Since 2012, Arlen has shared her story all over the country and has been a featured TEDx speaker. She has shared the stage with Preacher Joel Osteen and delivered the keynote address for numerous Fortune 500s including Pfizer, Disney, Microsoft, General Mills and Liberty Mutual Insurance. 


By Celia Goodyear. 

Copyright © 2024 Costello Communications & Marketing, LLC

Scroll To Top