Ferrum College senior and member of the women’s wrestling team Talum Smith was honored Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, during the “Wrestle Like A Girl” fourth annual gala. The event was held in Washington, D.C. at the National Museum for Women in the Arts.
Out of 427 nominated student wrestlers, Smith was chosen to receive the Afsoon Roshanzamir Johnston Courage Award presented by Tiffany and Co. The award was created in 2016 by the “Wrestle Like A Girl Foundation to honor Afsoon Roshanzamir Johnston who moved from Iran to the US and became the first woman in America’s history to win a wrestling medal for the US at the 1989 World Championships.
The Afsoon Roshanzamir Johnston Courage Award honors athletes who have to use immense personal courage to participate or compete in sports, even when participating could put them at great risk.
“I feel deeply humbled and honored to receive this award, said Smith. It feels amazing to know that I can inspire other people, especially young girls, and be a great role model to them. I want to thank Wrestle Like A Girl for hosting this event and for everything that they are doing to empower and invest in women.”
“Her award is fitting,” explained Ferrum College President David Johns. “Talum is one of the most courageous young women I know, in all aspects of life.”
“She is hardworking, dedicated, and a great leader who always has a smile on her face and produces positive energy,” said Ferrum College head women’s wrestling coach Breonnah Neal. “Talum is well-deserving of this award because of all of the obstacles she has faced.”
A criminal justice major hailing from Washington, D.C., Smith did not initially plan on pursuing higher education due to the expense and having to move away from her siblings. In spite of the odds, she made her way to Ferrum College and began working a full-time job to pay for school. In her sophomore year at the College, she came out for the women’s wrestling team, showing up at every practice that didn’t interfere with her full-time job. Also in her sophomore year, at age 19 Smith was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I was blindsided by the news,” said then head women’s wrestling coach Jessica Medina. “As she told me this, she had a smile on her face. She didn’t want anyone to pity her or worry.”
Throughout treatment, Smith continued to work and go to class with an oxygen tank in tow. She took summer classes to raise her GPA and was determined to wrestle for Ferrum College. In fall 2018, Smith received the happy news that the disease was in remission.
In January 2019, with her doctor’s permission, Smith competed in the Tornado Open. “She wrestled her heart out that day, inspiring our entire team,” said Medina. “Because she wanted to compete on her college team, she pushed herself in the classroom to have the opportunity.”
“Talum embodies the spirit of Ferrum College–determined, focused, and courageous,” said Johns, with pride. “She is an inspiration to us all.”