The path to Sarah Lion’s biological science degree from the College of Natural Sciences has been neither straight nor narrow. For starters, how many 30-year-olds do you know who’ve had multiple hip surgeries?
About seven years ago, Lion was serving a tour of duty in Iraq as a surgical specialist in the U.S. Army. During a detainee operation, she took a hard kick to the shoulder, landing on her hip while wearing 80 pounds of “battle rattle” – a combination of gear and Kevlar — and suffered a major injury to her labrum, the soft tissue ring around her hip joint. Lion was medically discharged from the military and returned to her hometown of Fort Collins.
With some college credits under her belt, Lion used her VA benefits to enroll at Colorado State University, attending school part time while working as a surgical technician to support herself. She proceeded to go through a divorce, and to break her ankle while studying abroad at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, forcing her to cut that semester short. Her hip injury has since required several surgeries, including one in August. She often walks with a cane, or uses a wheelchair. She’s too young for a total hip replacement, so she will require more surgeries in the future.
Lion’s health setbacks forced her to quit her job – she couldn’t stand for hours in the operating room. Money was tight, so she moved in with her now-boyfriend, commuting from Denver to Fort Collins every day this semester to finish school.
“Sometimes I felt like the universe was conspiring against me,” Lion says, but doesn’t regret any of her choices.
She says her confidence had suffered in high school due to a learning disability, and she is a “slow reader,” but none of that held her back at CSU.
“When I was in the military, I discovered I was capable of learning, when I thought I didn’t know how to learn,” she recalls.
At CSU, Lion found support with the Student Disability Center, as well as with the Adult Learner and Veterans Services office. She is grateful for three people in particular: Liz Hysen, her academic counselor; and University Distinguished Teaching Scholar Erica Suchman and Marcela Henao-Tamayo, faculty members in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology. Henao-Tamayo employed Lion as a lab assistant, allowing Lion to continue working while completing her biology degree. She’d like to pursue a career in health care after graduation.
Finally, Lion credits her boyfriend, Alan, for not letting her give up.
Lion cannot attend her own graduation ceremony on Dec. 14. She has an office job in Denver to pay the bills, and she has to work that day.