Joseph Iskander '23 used to hate running because he wasn't any good at it. He wasn't just slow, he was the slowest kid in his school. But when a doctor told him he'd never run again, running was all he wanted to do.
Joseph was born and raised in Cairo and he finished high school near Cairo. Both statements are true, but combined, they're misleading. Joseph grew up in Cairo, Egypt, but when he was 17, his father was transferred to upstate New York. Coincidentally, the family settled just outside of Cairo, NY. The move was obviously a culture shock, but for a while there was one constant, hospital beds.
Joseph was missing ligaments in both legs from birth and not all of the leg bones were aligned properly. He just didn't know it. All he knew as a kid was that he was unusually slow, and then around 11 years old, the pain started. Doctors were finally able to diagnose the problem, but no doctor in Egypt wanted to do the corrective surgery. Nearly a dozen doctors told Joseph and his family he was too old for the surgery, and there was too great a risk of complications. The sobering reality was that he'd likely be on crutches for the rest of his life. Fortunately, a doctor in England stepped in and agreed to the surgery, and when Joseph was 12, he underwent a day long operation on his left leg. A year later, the same surgery was performed on his right leg. In both cases, his leg was opened in three places and part of his hip was used to compensate for the missing ligaments. The surgeries were a success, but afterwards, the doctor told Joseph he would never run again.
For a long time, he assumed the doctor was right. In fact, for a long time, just walking up stairs was challenging. According to Joseph, few compensations are made, if any, in Egypt for people with disabilities. Joseph once missed an entire class trying to make it up one flight of stairs at school by himself. When he moved to New York, though, life got easier. And then he started to run.
Two more surgeries were required in the U.S., and soon walking turned into jogging, which turned into running, which turned into a spot on his high school's cross country team.
"Everyone says it's a miracle. After the surgeries, I became faster. I couldn't believe it myself. Imagine being told you'll never run again, and then you can?! I was really happy to join the cross country team. It's so fun to run now. I'll go on runs around the neighborhood just because I love to do it."
The surgeon fixed his legs, but the physical therapists helped build his strength and open his eyes to his potential. That's why Joseph wants to become a physical therapist, a career path that wouldn't have been possible back home.
"In Egypt, you don't get to decide what you want to be. Your track is chosen for you based on your grades. In the U.S. you get to dream and decide for yourself. I know I couldn't have pursued medicine in Egypt. My grades weren't good enough. But I've applied myself here, and when I graduate next year, I'm planning to apply to 10-15 different physical therapy programs."
Joseph remembers one particular cross country meet in high school. He didn't win or even crack the top 50. But, he did well enough to earn his team a point. The slowest kid in school, destined to spend his life on crutches, crossed a finish line he was never supposed to see. As a physical therapist, he hopes to inspire others to reach their own unattainable goals.
"I love Siena. I always recommend it to others, especially international students. I didn't speak English very well when my family moved here. The English as a new language program has helped my speaking and writing so much, and the professors have been great."
Joseph Iskander '23
Joseph is involved with both the International Student Association (ISA) and the Orthodox Christian Student Association (OCSA). He's gone kayaking (top) with ISA and hiking with OCSA (right).
"Religion is something that is connected to Egyptian culture in many ways, and when we meet (OCSA), we have prayer meetings, bible studies, and partake in fellowship. It's the only place I can speak my first language, and the people remind me of my home country. When we're together, I feel like I never left Egypt."