Nicolas Sully suffered a stroke four years ago that left him partially paralyzed, but he refuses to let that paralyze his spirit.
He has transformed tragedy into triumph by making the school's honor roll, being a mentor to younger students and even recounting his road to recovery in a pending memoir. School officials describe him as "Elmont's finest."
Sully's success didn't come easy. The stroke left him in a coma for four days, and he remains paralyzed on much of his left side -- although he has regained some movement through occupational therapy and daily stretching. He walks with a limp but without the use of a walker.
"We were playing basketball in a two-on-two tournament, and I started feeling a headache, but I continued to play because I love basketball," said Sully, 17, recounting the fateful day. At the time, he was an eighth-grader at William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School in Brooklyn. "After the game, I tried to put on my left sneaker, but it felt like it weighed 1,000 pounds."
From there, Sully was rushed to Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, where tests revealed a blood clot in the back of his head, which he said has since disappeared. In addition to occupational therapy, Sully has undergone two surgeries to improve the movement in his left hand, but simple interests such as playing video games remain strenuous tasks.
Sully's hardships extended beyond the physical. Due to his paralysis, he said, many of his classmates were embarrassed to be around him, and his grades suffered as a result. The low point came when Grady administrators called his mother to tell her that he had failed five classes.
It was then that everything changed. Sully and his mother, Daniella, moved to Elmont after she bought her first house -- and that meant a new school for him.
Sully cited the positive energy and passion of his new teachers with renewing his love of learning.
"He had the desire to do and want better for himself," guidance counselor Sanju Liclican said. "From the onset, Nicolas presented himself as humble, respectful and a determined student. He was very clear on his expectations for himself and lived up to them in a spectacular fashion."
Sully's achievements included making the school's honor roll and principal's list in his junior year and being active in the Big Brother Big Sister, Global Links, and Students Against Destructive Decisions clubs.
He plans to study health sciences this fall at Queensborough Community College and hopes to work eventually in a hospital as an anesthesiologist or psychiatrist, helping others who have faced challenges similar to his.
He is also penning a memoir in the hopes of raising awareness about strokes. It is being edited by his English teacher, Richard McAllister, who says Sully has "an aura of class that is few and far between."
Sully aims to lead by example.
"I just keep my head up and do what I gotta do," he said of his post-stroke attitude. "If this ever happens to someone else, I want them to be able to look at me as an inspiration."