Disabled does not mean "unable," not to Danielle Emig.

The Spring Grove Area High School senior defines the word differently than most others.

She has ever since her diagnosis.

"Someone who can do everything that a regular person can do, but at a slower pace," she said.

That is how Danielle, 18, describes someone with a disability — someone like her. Danielle and her parents joined 18 other families representing 17 York County school districts at the York City Ice Arena Tuesday night for the 21st annual Turnaround Achievement Awards. The awards, presented by the York County Bowling Proprietor's Association, honors students nominated by their teachers or counselors who have overcome significant obstacles in their academic careers.

Some of the students have endured abuse and neglect, others come from extreme poverty. Most have had behavioral issues or have battled learning disabilities.

Danielle's obstacles struck out of the blue.

Between ninth and 10th-grade, Danielle began to lose control of the right side of her body. Her words became more and more difficult to understand. Neither her parents nor her teachers knew what was wrong. Many of her fellow students whom she once considered friends shied away from her. After countless doctor visits, multiple blood tests and almost a dozen MRI's, doctors were finally able to tell Julie and Michael Emig what was happening to their daughter. Danielle was diagnosed with Dystonia, a neurological disorder that impacts muscle control, thinking and speech.

"We were watching her come home from school one day and she was dragging her right foot. And that’s when we figured out something was going on. And then her speech got to where we couldn’t understand her," Julie said.

Danielle fell into a deep depression. Dystonia has no known cure, and treatments range from medication and injections to electrodes placed in the brain to stimulate muscular responses.

While Danielle's case is considered mild, meaning it has so far been manageable with medication and therapy, she lost the ability to navigate stairs, to speak clearly and to play her favorite sport.

"I played field hockey," she said.

With the help of a special education supervisor, Dr. Michelle Ludwig, Danielle learned to deal with her Dystonia. She wears a pink brace on her right foot and had to get a special pass to be able to take the elevator at school. She had an iPad to use because she could no longer write. And, for a while, she coped. But Danielle was determined.

Today, after two years of living with Dystonia, Daniell once again takes the stairs. She traded in her iPad for a pencil. And, while she is still unable to play field hockey, she served as manager to the Spring Grove 11th and 12th-grade girls field hockey teams this past season.

"I think she feels like she has overcome, she can move on. She can do things she couldn’t do there for two years," Julie said. "She was to the point where she didn’t want to do anything. She’d come home from school and just lay there and that was it. Now she is to the point where she is kicking a ball."

College has been ruled out for Danielle. So has driving a car. And sadly, having relationships with some of the people she once called friends seems to have been ruled out, too.

"I don’t really have as many friends because of all this. They all just kind of left. They were all saying I had a heart attack or a stroke and they didn’t want to be my friend," Danielle said.

The Dystonia doesn't cause her any pain. But the abandonment of her friends certainly hurt, she said.

"It made me feel like crap."

Determined to be undeterred, however, Danielle has turned the corner. She made the honor roll and will graduate at the end of the year.

And, while employers have so far been reluctant to hire her, Danielle is going to pursue her new-found dream of finding a job in which she can help others.

"Not college, she is going to a post-secondary (school) for another year. She is going to go to the Brethren Home in New Oxford. They have a program there where she is going to get some job skills, some job coaching. She really wants to do something with helping people," Dr. Ludwig said.

Like Danielle, all of the students honored Tuesday night have succeeded where others said they would fail.

A total of $4,000 in scholarships were handed out, split into $600 increments for those students eligible.

"It's why the Turnaround Achievement Awards were started," event organizer Barry Sparks said.

As for Danielle, she said she did not have to be diagnosed with Dystonia to learn not to judge others. That is something her parents always taught her, she said.

But for those people that do judge — the employers who took her applications but turned her down after meeting her in person and the so-called friends who walked away from her after her diagnosis — Danielle offered up some keen advice.

"Don’t judge someone," she said, "because you don’t know their story."

— Reach John Joyce atjjoyce2@yorkdispatch.comor on Twitter at @JohnJoyceYD

Winners: Turnaround Achievement Award Winners

  • Brandon A. Creisher —    ($600)   York Catholic High School
  • Raudimill Lendof-Guerrero —        West York Area High School
  • Fiona L. Dowling —          ($600)  Dallastown Area High School
  • Danielle Emig —                          Spring Grove Area High School
  • Allen R. Fogle III —                     York County School of Technology
  • Zacharia Funt —                          New Oxford High School
  • Alexandria N. Glisan —    ($600)   Northeastern High School
  • Shaylanna E. Green —                 Kennard-Dale High School
  • Rianna M. Joy —             ($600)   Delone Catholic High School
  • Jordan A. Laughman —                Hanover High School
  • Frank G. Leonardis —      ($600)   Eastern York High School
  • Michael Martin —                        Susquehannock High School
  • Ashley Mendoza —                     York Suburban High School
  • James Postell —             ($600)  South Western High School
  • Austin N. Richcreek —     ($600)  Dover Area High School
  • Dayanna K. Rockemore —          Littlestown High School
  • Hannah E. Sandbek —                Red Lion Area Senior High School
  • LeVaysha Darling —                   York Area High School
Read or Share this story: