By Geneva Gámez-Vallejo
In life, we either accept change and new challenges or fall to our limitations. There are moments and circumstances that leave their mark in our lives, for better or for worse. As harsh as it may often seem to many, it is up to us to see the positive outcome of these occurrences. Life changing events can happen unexpectedly, but recovering from a traumatic accident can take years, sometimes a lifetime. However, it has been proven by human success stories that recovery is not impossible.
Humberto Gurmilan’s story is an example of recovery after a life changing event.
Gurmilan fell victim to the ocean’s power while surfing one day and survived his ordeal. Humberto has spent over 20 years in a wheelchair after being pulled from the deep waters where he was catching waves off Playas de Tijuana’s shores. His accident left him with a broken neck and paralyzed him from the waist down.
An accident like that would end ny positive outlooks on life. Especially for a high school student with an active athletic life and big dreams for his future. Fortunately, Humberto’s spirits remained strong.
Although, Gurmilan was born in San Diego, he and his family were living in Tijuana when the accident happened. Doctors at the Tijuana hospital where he was treated immediately suggested that Gurmilan seek medical attention stateside due to lack of equipment needed to properly get him moving again. Intense months of change came all around for him and his family as they moved to San Diego and integrated into their new community.
As tough as these changes were, the Gurmilan family remained supportive of Humberto; his accident did not hinder their future expectations for him. Fortunately, Gurmilan’s physical abilities improved and he was eventually able to be less dependent for mobility.
Today, Gurmilan is independent and an above average hard worker who sets an example for those around him every single day. He drives himself anywhere he needs to go, holds an A.A. degree in Journalism and a B.A. in Communications.
Humberto’s passion for sports continues both as a fan and as a professional. He is the sports anchor for Telemundo 33 newscasts at 6pm and 11pm and is a familiar face to local viewers. He is also well known around San Diego City College where he teaches communications courses.
He has written an autobiography, “Desde Mi Silla,” (“From My Chair”) and was the protagonist of “Una Vez Más” a documentary about him that recently premiered in La Jolla and in Tijuana of which half of it’s proceeds benefit his new cause, The Gurmilan Foundation.
This foundation has been part of a bigger picture for Gurmilan, who’s been interested with the idea for about five years now and is now finally coming to fruition.
Attempting to speak with Gurmilan on a busy night for him, after he’d finished his appearance on the newscast and after he’d run around all day with a long to-do list (that he personally feels that he has to complete), I offered to switch the interview to another day and maybe a different time as it was getting late. He replied immediately “I’m ready, let’s do this now,” which was just another example of his consistent perseverance and work ethic.
Gurmilan spoke to me about this long pursuit to help others with disabilities that almost seemed overdue in his telling of it.
“In a nutshell, The Gurmilan Foundation is a non-profit organization to help support proper health, education, offering books to educate and wheelchairs to the most needy,” Gurmilan began to explain.
“The foundation started five years ago when I started thinking of helping other people in Tijuana who don’t have the opportunities I had. There’s a big need in Tijuana, [and] in all of Mexico. There is a huge lack of inclusion in disability rights”
He further explained how he had thought of all the many ways he could help and quickly realized he didn’t want to become another foundation that only donated wheelchairs, clothes, etc but he wanted to take it a step further and become part of the solution to the lack of a larger issue by educating and preparing those with disabilities to be a voice in their community so they can potentially demand rights of inclusion and be heard.
“Taking wheelchairs [across the border] helps but not with the real problem of infrastructure. We want to help promote those getting educated so they can help others become leaders,” he said.
“So far The Gurmilan Foundation has been able to aid a girl who is visually impaired by providing the tools she needs to learn braille, medicine and clothing but a lot more needs to happen so others can get the help they seek.”
Members of the foundation board vary between community leaders, colleagues and others with disability success stories. He hopes to become a voice of motivation, empowering individuals with disabilities in challenged communities. The foundation will also raise awareness to a tremendous issue that is often placed low on the government’s priority list: disability rights.
Those interested in learning more or helping can visit his website at gurmilanfoundation.org.