SCHERTZ — Jazmin Harper is one busy teenager.
She rises at 4:30 a.m. to swim before school, plays multiple instruments, participates in the Steele High School marching band and orchestra, and is a Girl Scout.
The 16-year-old also is legally blind.
Staying active means not being defined by her disability, said Harper, who swims on three teams — including her varsity squad.
“You can be whoever you want to be,” the junior said. “You just have to adapt to it and make it work for you.”
Her optical issues started at birth with the discovery of a cataract, originally thought to be a tumor, behind her eye. Diagnosed with glaucoma at age 8, she underwent several surgeries over time and wore an eye patch for more than a decade.
One year ago, a corneal-opacity procedure was performed to completely open Harper’s left eye and give her “two eyes for the first time ever,” her mother, Jennifer Harper, said.
Her daughter lacks peripheral vision looking both right and left.
Shayler Wagner, Steele assistant principal, describes Harper as a “dedicated and conscientious” student since meeting during her freshman year.
“She does not give herself enough credit,” Wagner said. “She is an amazing young lady, and has done some amazing things in her life. Sometimes, she is too hard on herself and doesn’t see how wonderful and amazing she is. It seems to me now that Jazmin is starting to realize just how special and how much of a blessing she is.”
Harper hasn’t let her vision impairment prevent her from enjoying life.
The Schertz resident joined marching band this school year, and has been involved in orchestra since sixth grade. She plays the violin, alto saxophone, piano and guitar.
Her stepfather’s talent as a violinist was influential; she confesses to “goose bumps” when he plays one of her favorite songs. Her mom, who enjoys singing 1980s tunes and classic rock, inspired Harper’s appreciation for music.
“I can go from classical orchestra to hard metal,” she said. “Each genre has their specialties.”
Learning to swim was a necessity at an early age, Harper said, as her mother didn’t want her to topple into a pool and drown.
“I didn’t raise Jazmin as a visually impaired daughter,” Jennifer Harper said. “I just raised her as my daughter. Vision was never an excuse for me. You don’t know what to do when your daughter is born with a disability. You make some choices that you second-guess, but being tough on her was not one I second-guessed. It’s really helped her.”
The pupil has learned to overcome challenges, in and out of the classroom.
With studies, she uses both a handheld and electronic magnifier to read text, and a cane to get around the campus. Harper said she recently applied to obtain a guide dog for assistance.
In marching band, counting and memorizing every step is crucial; if a beat is missed, her hearing helps with getting back on track.
“I have the type of ears that know when I’m off-key,” she said.
Counting is paramount for swimming, too, to prevent colliding with the pool wall. The lack of peripheral vision blocks her from seeing other swimmers, she said. Harper credits her family, friends and school instructors for providing aid.
“My mom takes me to all my appointments,” she said. “My counselor helps me … to be successful and helps me with advice. My coaches are very (motivating) without being too rough on me.”
Jennifer Harper said her daughter wants to teach music someday.
The University of Texas at Austin, University of North Texas and Texas State University are on her daughter’s list of next-level academic possibilities, she added.