Imagine that you are a dyslexic student at the University, an institution acclaimed for its academic excellence, where the burdens and pressures of scholarship are challenging enough already. Then imagine managing that schoolwork with other extracurricular commitments and outside interests. If that is not enough, imagine that the extracurricular commitment is playing Division I women's basketball in one of the sport's premier basketball conferences, the ACC.
That is sophomore guard Lexie Gerson's story. Despite the severe dyslexia that affects her comprehension of reading and math, Gerson has taken all of the challenges that have confronted her in life in stride - with uplifting optimism, refreshing humility and much-deserved success.
The Fort Washington, Pa. native began learning to manage her dyslexia and achieve her full potential - on and off the court - when she transferred to the Peddie School in Hightstown, NJ. Located 45 miles east of Gerson's hometown, the private boarding school offered greater academic support early in her high school career. As Gerson studied at the Peddie School, she also developed into a four-star basketball prospect, reaching the ESPN top-100 list and attracting the interest of schools such as Connecticut, Duke and Virginia.
"With the help of my teachers [at the Peddie School], I was able to get through things like math, which are really challenging for me," Gerson said. "I was able to pull off the grades I didn't think were possible considering how hard it was for me to read through and do the schoolwork. All of the support really helped me prepare for my career here at U.Va."
At Virginia, Gerson intends to major in Studies in Women and Gender. She said the readings she is assigned are challenging but increasingly manageable.
"I don't really get much extra support compared to what any other student-athlete gets," she said. "I get the necessary accommodations from the [Learning and Needs Center] - like extra time on tests and help with other stuff - but outside of that, I don't get any special attention."
Tim Taylor, associate head coach of the Virginia women's basketball team, added that the level of academic support afforded to all of the student-athletes at Virginia is top-notch.
"I'm absolutely confident that [academic coordinator] Natalie Fitzgerald is one of the best academic coordinators in the nation," Taylor said. "[The academic administration] is like Natalie's baby, and she's really good at making sure our student athletes are taken care of academically."
In a testament to her hard work, Gerson is one of only five players on the team who has started more than 10 games this season. She is also averaging 6.5 points, 2.2 rebounds and almost 20 minutes per game for the Cavaliers.
Gerson has not played in the team's last two tilts - home games against Wake Forest and then-No. 14 Florida State - because she returned to attend to a medical emergency in her family back home in Pennsylvania.
Given her proven ability to overcome plenty of adversity to date, however, Gerson remains as determined as ever, and Virginia fans can count on an inspired showing when she returns to on-court action for the Cavaliers.
"I'm a naturally optimistic person, and I'm really confident in my game and my shot right now," Gerson said. "Whenever I am given the opportunity to play, I'm going to do what I can to help the team be successful"