Nearly four years ago, Anna Sarol, a passionate gymnast, fell on the uneven bars in an incident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. But on May 19, the teen was able to walk across the graduation stage, taking her first steps on her own in years.
Anna Sarol, 18, of Kansas City, Kansas, took a deep breath before rising to her feet and using a walker and leg braces to make her way across the stage on May 19 during the Olathe Northwest High School graduation ceremony. The moment fulfilled a vow Sarol made to herself after the accident nearly four years ago, she told ABC News.
“I made a promise to myself that I’ll be determined to walk the grad stage, if I could walk at that point,” she said to the outlet. “I was very nervous, very anxious about the whole situation because my classmates haven’t seen me walk since freshman year.”
The crowd cheered and gave Sarol a standing ovation as she crossed the stage and accepted her accolade. She finished with a smile on her face and returned to her wheelchair.
“Everybody, almost the whole stadium, was crying,” Sarol’s mother, Louicee Sarol, told ABC. “I looked back and parents are in tears of joy, all for Anna.”
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Sarol was just 15 when she became paralyzed. After the incident, Sarol went through treatment, rehabilitation and ultimately began learning to adjust to her new life. Facebook updates showed the teen learning to drive and paddle boarding.
“As her big sister, it was such an honor being a witness of the standing ovation at her graduation,” Sarol’s sister, Tina Kraemer, tells PEOPLE. “I know I speak for everyone in my family when I say that although she maybe is our baby sister, she is the one we ALL look up to. She inspires everyone around her with resilience and a positive attitude that she commits to every day.”
The family has set up a GoFundMe page to cover Sarol’s medical expenses, on which they praise Sarol for her strength and “positive attitude.”
The significance of Sarol’s achievements aren’t lost on the teen. She recalled her health journey in an Instagram post, writing that she has long been determined to overcome any challenges related to her condition.
“I can’t even begin to explain what it felt like, at that very moment, to see my entire class and the stadium audience cheering me on and standing with me,” she wrote. “And remember, if you take anything away from this, ‘stay strong and make them wonder how you’re still smiling!’ “
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