Justin Chan said he is just like every other student at USF. However, he has never seen water trickle through the fountain in Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza or squirrels scurry up the topiary bull in front of the Marshall Student Center.
That is because Chan, a junior majoring in accounting, was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 8 years old. His treatment left him legally blind.
“It was hard to realize what had happened,” he said. “But I just had to adjust and keep moving on.”
Moving has always played a role in Chan’s life. When he was first diagnosed with the cancer, he moved with his mother from their home in the Philippines to St. Petersburg, where he received treatment at All Children’s Hospital.
Chan said he was so young he does not remember if he was scared.
“It was all just a big dream,” he said. “It seemed unreal.”
After five months in the hospital, Chan was released and went to live with his aunt and uncle in Port Charlotte.
Chan said it was difficult adapting to a lack of vision, but that it has “not made anything impossible.”
When Chan first toured USF’s campus, he said it was “a nice, spacious campus that was not too crowded and not too big.” The College of Business’ Bulls Business Community (BBC) also helped sway his decision to attend.
The BBC is a student organization that allows students in the College of Business to tour local companies, take part in other business-related events and participate in community service activities. Chan said he was involved in the Stampede of Service and Relay for Life.
After changing his major from business management to accounting, Chan said he felt comfortable with his new field because it’s “tedious, but the good kind of tedious.”
Despite the cane he uses to direct himself across campus and electronic textbooks that are easier for him to read, Chan said he doesn’t “feel any different than anyone else.”
“I take the same classes as everyone,” he said.
However his roommate, Ruby Thomas, a sophomore majoring in accounting, said he feels he can only do half of what Chan does every day and is “amazed at all of Justin’s accomplishments.”
“If Justin gets a B on a test, he does not get upset,” Thomas said. “But says that he will work harder to get an A next time … (He) has persistence in everything that he does.”
For middle and high school, Chan attended the St. Augustine Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind boarding school. It was there that he became involved in goalball.
The objective of the game is to throw a ball, about the size of a soccer ball, past players on an opposing team and into their goal. There are usually three blindfolded players on a team who must work together to block the ball, which contains bells that allow them to hear where it is on the court, from entering their goal.
“I started (playing) it and liked it,” Chan said. “It gives me something to do that I enjoy. In high school, if you don’t play a sport or join a club, then what do you do?”
Chan said he dreams of one day becoming a participant in the Paralympic Games, an athletic competition for the disabled. Until then, he said he can envision himself working as an accountant for the Internal Revenue Service or another government organization.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it,” Chan said. “I would not be where I am today without all the help that has been given to me.”