Clemson Cheerleader Flips And Tumbles Despite Blindness

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CLEMSON, SC (FOX Carolina/CNN) - She cheers and flips, but the stunts aren't the only challenges a Clemson University cheerleader faces every day.

Erica Powell is a T.L. Hanna High School graduate and junior at Clemson. She's thankful to be a cancer survivor, but treatments for the disease left her with vision problems that most people couldn't imagine living with.

Powell was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma at just six months old. After treatments and surgeries until she was six or seven, she found her vision was impacted by the radiation.

Today, she's legally blind.

She got her driver's license at 16, but had to turn it over at 18. Even now, she goes to her doctors in Atlanta for eye injections each month.

Powell said she sees colors, light and shapes, but she said everything is always blurry. She can't make out details, which is frustrating.

"Especially the social aspect of it, like walking by someone that could be my mother or my best friend and not being able to recognize them," explained Powell.

Powell said she knows voices very well. But when she's flipping, throwing her teammates, and staying in step on the mats, she said it's a blur.

Her coach, Tori Palmer, said Powell is an inspiration for her teammates.

"She never asks for any special treatment. You wouldn't even know as a coach [that she was visually impaired]. She never complains; she works really hard," said Palmer.

Powell said she had grown up doing gymnastics and it wasn't until her senior year at T.L. Hanna that she started cheering. She's been on the varsity squad at Clemson for three years.

She acknowledged that she can't even see the games she's cheering for, that it's mostly a blur. She said she has to rely on her teammates' reactions to know when to cheer.

Because she's had cancer before, Powell explained that she's at a greater risk of getting it again, any kind. She said unfortunately, her condition is degenerative, so her vision will likely get worse, too.

But she doesn't let it get her down.

"I don't feel different compared to other people. I try not to see myself as any different than any other college student," Powell said.

Posted by Greg Palmer