By Linda Looney-Bond
Michal Tachel Terry, 24, of Jonesboro, has faced a lifetime of challenges since she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a 14- month-old infant.
She said Tuesday that she's used to beating the odds.
"My mom put me in every activity you could think of to strengthen my legs," Terry said. "They [doctors] told her I would never walk. "She said, 'You don't know who I know.' She meant her God," Terry said.
"Everytime I've had surgery," she said, "I've had to learn how to walk again, having walkers. My last major surgery was in sixth grade. I couldn't go to school. I had a home-school teacher. I was on bed rest, I think, five or six months."
She said she now walks with no problem, and has not had to use the aid of a walker since sixth grade.
Having overcome many obstacles, Terry recently beat the odds again. She was chosen the winner of a $20,000 tuition scholarship toward a culinary-arts degree, said Elizabeth Wilson, spokesperson for the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Atlanta. Some 13,000 essays were submitted nationwide, Wilson said. "We're just very proud of her ... with what she has had to deal with, and what she has had to overcome," said Wilson.
"She's a sweet young woman, and she is going to succeed. We're proud of having her, and that she wanted to come to the Art Institute of Atlanta - to our program," Wilson added.
The essay contest was offered in conjunction with the Food Network, The Chef Jeff Project, hosted by Chef Jeff Henderson, said Wilson.
Essays were judged on three key points: the ability to clearly communicate a specific culinary career goal and vision, the originality of the story, and the degree of passion and conviction for pursuing a culinary-arts education, Wilson said.
"I want to open an upscale restaurant and bakery with my mother," Terry said. She said she also hopes to start an after-school program for children, that will inspire future chefs through cooking lessons. "I grew up watching my mother cook. I like being in the kitchen with my mom, learning different things from her," she said.
Terry is a 2003 graduate of Creekside High School in Fairburn, Ga. She moved to Jonesboro in 2004. She began taking classes at the Art Institute of Atlanta in January, and learned shortly thereafter she had won the scholarship, she said.
Terry is working toward earning a bachelor of science degree in culinary-arts management. "So far, I'm taking basic skills - Intro[duction] to bakery, intro to pastry, culinary management, food safety, international cuisine.
"You still have to take your general classes, like English, and things like that," she said.
Terry's mother, Regena Terry Johnson, 51, said the scholarship is a relief. "It's a triple blessing. Things had gotten kind of bleak financially. That's when the scholarship came through," Regena Johnson said.
"With the surgeries, and in and out of hospitals for 20 years, we have been blessed so many different ways. All the people that have helped ... along the way ... I can't say enough," she added.
Terry said she is thankful. "The check just got released today. They gave it to the accounting department [at the Art Institute], and they'll apply it to the quarters as they go along, so as of right now, all I have to worry about is paying for books," she said.