- Associated Press - Sunday, February 23, 2014

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - Erica Powell has been tumbling, twirling and bending her body doing gymnastics since she was a toddler.

Her cousin, who was a couple of years older, was enrolled. So her parents signed her up, too.

“They wanted to keep me active,” Erica said.

For 14 years, she competed in gymnastics. She loved it.

When she suffered an injury between her junior and senior years in high school, she did not stop. She simply switched sports. She went into cheerleading when she was a senior at T.L. Hanna High School.

Because she loved the sport so much, she tried out for the Clemson University Tigers’ cheerleading team. She was one of about 40 selected for the team out of the nearly 130 who tried out.

It wasn’t until after Erica made that team that the coach realized something about her: the dark-haired, energetic young woman is nearly blind.

Doctors diagnosed retinoblastoma when Erica was 6 months old. She had nine tumors behind one eye and five behind the other. Erica said her mother noticed that she was crying but tears were not forming on her face.

An ophthalmologist dilated Erica’s little eyes and saw the tumors.

That began trips to Emory University for her. Through some periods, she was traveling to and from the hospital in Atlanta at least once a month. She went through surgeries to have the tumors removed.

But vision problems persisted.

At first, it was as simple as not being able to see the blackboard in class very clearly or not being able to always pick out her parents in a crowded room. But in those early years, she could read textbooks.

When it was time to take her driver’s license test, Erica passed it at age 16. She was able to drive, she was preparing for college and competing in gymnastics.

“Getting my driver’s license, that was really exciting for me,” Erica said. “I really lived a pretty normal life until I was 17 or 18 years old.”

But within a couple of years, things began to change with her vision - again.

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