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Spencer's passion to help others fuel her determination to succeed

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Courtesy Danielle Spencer | The Daily Wildcat

A young Danielle Spencer poses during gymnastics practice.

After a long practice, University of Arizona gymnast Danielle Spencer grabs her backpack, textbooks and headphones and makes her way to the library to study for biomedical engineering.

Moving from her birthplace in New York to Scottsdale, Arizona at the age of 4, Spencer’s mother Carol Spencer put her into gymnastics classes immediately. Her mother had participated in gymnastics while in the United Kingdom and she decided to see if Spencer would enjoy the sport.

Spencer grew to love the sport of gymnastics and started jumping to different programs. She soon ended up attending Gold Medal Gymnastics owned by 1996 Gold Medalist Amanda Borden; she would go on to train there for six years.

Courtesy Danielle Spencer | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona gymnast Danielle Spencer as a young child. Spencer started gymnastics at the age of 4. 

Spencer received offers from multiple Division I schools, but the University of Arizona caught Spencers attention for gymnastics, academics and the overall atmosphere of the campus. Previously attending UA gymnastics summer camps, Spencer knew former head coach Bill Ryden, who ended up recruiting her.

“[Ryden] was also an engineer, and I knew I wanted to do biomedical engineering,” said Spencer.

Despite the hard work Spencer has put into gymnastics at the UA, her true passion lies within the textbooks where she continues to enjoy studying biology and chemistry.

Since Spencer’s sophomore year of high school, there was no question of what she wanted to be when she grew up. Spencer has a passion for helping others who are like her twin brother James.

“I have a twin special needs brother named James,” Spencer said. “James had severe epilepsy when he was younger, has poor motor skills along with speaking and learning disabilities,” said Spencer. “But the worst part were his seizures.”

When Spencer was just ten years old her brother had to go into the hospital to determine if there was anything to do to help stop the seizures that James has. The results found that it came from all different parts of the brain.

Spencer wanted to become a neurosurgeon during her freshman year of high school due to the procedures James had to go through. One of those procedures in particular referred to as the “split brain surgery,” where they separate the left and right hemispheres of the brain to stop seizures. That procedure has worked wonders for James.

“They say after 18 months if the nerve endings haven’t started to reconnect he should be seizure free and it’s been almost six years and he hasn’t had one since,” said Spencer. “So after that I wanted to be a neurosurgeon because no one had been able to help my brother like that.”

Becoming a neurosurgeon was only the first idea Spencer had of what she wanted to become, but her scientific curiosity has continued to lead her to other avenues of the field.

Spencer describes a time when she was watching “60 minutes” with her family and a segment about biomedical engineering came on. It immediately grabbed Spencer’s eye when the show covered prosthetic limbs for vets and amputees along with the findings of ways to end seizures in nerve endings.

“I remember watching that [60 minutes] and thinking I can incorporate that sort of technology for someone like my brother because his way of life still isn’t normal or typical,” said Spencer.

Until the age of 10, Spencer thought her life alongside her twin brother was normal.

“It was normal if it was a Saturday and we were watching a movie and all of a sudden James just drops to the floor with a seizure and hold his head up to make sure he doesn’t bite his tongue,” said Spencer. “That was normal to me. I didn’t think anything of it.”

Courtesy Danielle Spencer

Danielle Spencer poses with her twin brother James.

Spencer is currently studying biomedical engineering at the UA and plans to continue to help others like her brother James.

Spencer’s mother Carol has always seen her daughter in a calm and caring manner throughout her life.

“I think growing up with James fueled a passion in Danielle, she has a huge heart and sense of compassion, she wanted to make her career choice and her time in college count,” said Carol. “I think she figured out that because she is a healthy, smart young lady that she can push herself to make a difference and have a meaningful career helping others while doing what she loves.”

Carrying over the passion of helping others to her teammates, Spencer continues her ability to understand and motivate her teammates.

Team captain and roommate Krysten Howard sees the motivation and support Spencer brings to the floor at practices and meets.

“The passion and drive Dani demonstrates in the gym is only a piece of who she truly is,” said Howard. “If she isn’t in the gym more often than not she has her head in a text book. And if you ask her why she works so hard in school, without the slightest hesitation, she will tell you about James, her special needs twin brother.”

Spencer finds joy in gymnastics and is inspiring to Howard and the rest of her team.

“Spencer wants to change lives and be a light to those in need,” said Howard. “I have never met someone more dedicated toward their goals as Danielle Spencer.”

Spencer recently had the honor to walk with her brother James out onto the floor during a home meet at McKale Center.

“Seeing the smile on his face was very heartwarming,” said Spencer. “It was very special to share that with him.”

Spencer in in her sophomore year and is competing in the 2016-2017 season while continuing to study biomedical engineering.


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