Steamboat Springs grad determined to get degree |

Steamboat Springs grad determined to get degree

Fiona McClure rings up Jerry Lai while working at Blue Sage Pizza in the Wildhorse Market Place in Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today.

Fiona McClure is tired of being told no.

“I just believe that things are possible … they may look different, or whatever, but they are very possible,” said McClure, who was born with cerebral palsy and is looking to further her education.

“There were just a lot of people telling me no,” she continued. “I was like, ‘If you tell me that, then I’m not going to listen. I’m going do the exact opposite because I know it’s possible and I know I will find a way.’”

After graduating from Steamboat Springs High School in 2020, McClure headed to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley for a short stint before realizing it was not the right place for her.

“I thought it was what I wanted, and once I got into it, I realized it wasn’t what I was going for or what I had hoped for,” McClure said.

McClure said she’s always wanted to go to college for as long as she could remember, but then when she got to UNC, the program wasn’t what she had imagined for herself and she didn’t like it, so she left in March 2020 and returned home to Steamboat Springs.

While UNC wasn’t a good fit for McClure, she wasn’t ready to give up on her dreams of earning a college degree or going on to graduate school, so she applied to the University of Denver in August and got accepted in December.

But just as one hurdle falls, McClure is now facing another.

Tuition, fees, housing, and meals at DU for the 2022-23 school year are estimated at $72,000. After scholarships and grants, the direct cost for McClure is estimated at just under $45,000, and with loans, she is looking at having to cover about $39,000.

Fiona McClure cleans a display case at the start of her shift at Blue Sage Pizza in the Wildhorse Market Place. Fiona is currently working three jobs with hopes of saving enough money to pursue her college degree at the University of Denver.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

McClure is currently working at the Slopeside Grill, Blue Sage Pizza and Mad Creek Barbecue, saving her pennies with hopes of covering tuition. So far, she has saved just over $9,000.

McClure said it was not easy getting a job after leaving UNC, but she knew it would be important if she hoped to return to school.

Additionally, she connected with James Higgins, an independent living coordinator with NorthWest Colorado Center for Independence (NWCCI), who helped guide McClure during her job search.

“One of the things that happened when Fiona started working with NWCCI was we got her signed up with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation,” Higgins said. “NWCCI is basically a provider for them, so I could then become Fiona’s job coach. We spent a lot of time reading resumes, writing cover letters.”

It paid off for McClure, who landed the jobs she needed and is now actively saving for school. Higgins is also helping McClure pursue scholarships, grants and loans, as well as reaching out to local organizations that might aid her desire to get back to school.

How to help

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Fiona McClure raise money to attend the University of Denver. For more, go to GoFundMe.Com and search for “Fiona’s Education Fund.”

NWCCI works with seniors and people who have disabilities to promote empowerment through advocacy, peer support and education. The people who come to NWCCI have to take the lead, but those like Higgins can help guide the way.

“If you’ve got a permanent disability of any kind, then you can come and get assistance with basically anything at all,” Higgins said. “We’re very goal driven, so if people have things that they want to achieve, you know, something big like going back to school or if it’s something like applying for benefits or general advocation, we can help.”

Higgins said McClure’s desire to go to the University of Denver is unique for the organization, but NWCCI is there to help guide people who want to reach their goals.

“This is the first time I’ve taken on something like this, so we’re both learning as we go,” Higgins said. “One of the big parts of this is that Fiona’s in the driver’s seat. Think of me as the co-pilot in the plane, and I’m helping navigate connecting with different resources, and I’m providing peer support. I’m really trying to provide the best guidance I can to help Fiona really carve this way for herself.”

Having to carve a way for herself is something the young woman has faced repeatedly the past 22 years. But McClure also said the challenges have only made her stronger and more determined. The last thing she wants is for anyone to feel sorry for her.

“Sometimes it’s hard to grasp all these things that have happened to me, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if those things didn’t happen to me because I am a very, very strong-willed and determined person,” McClure said.

McClure’s challenges started from time she was born in China and diagnosed with cerebral palsy, also known as CP. CP covers a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. In some cases, children with CP also develop cognitive impairment.

In McClure’s case, she can handle college classes but sometimes requires accommodations such as a longer time allowance for tests, projects and homework.

McClure said it was a financial challenge for her Chinese parents to take care of her as a child, which is how she ended up in a Chinese orphanage when she was very young. They had hoped that she would get the attention she needed at the orphanage.

“They couldn’t afford the medical expenses of taking care of someone that had special needs,” McClure said.

Reviewing her old files, McClure said that she also discovered doctors had told her parents she would never be able to walk and it was unlikely she would even be able to sit up on her own.

She proved those doctors wrong, as she was able to sit up and eventually walk, despite spending years in the orphanage.

McClure also learned English and said she became a translator at the orphanage, helping the staff communicate with Americans hoping to adopt. She also said she helped care for many of the other children in the orphanage and was often required to perform tasks that stole many of the joys of being a child.

“There were lots of things that were very, very traumatic, ” McClure recalled. “The living situation in the orphanage was not so good, and I had a lot of PTSD from that.”

She was adopted at age 9 and came to Steamboat Springs to live with her adoptive parents, David and Faith McClure.

Fiona McClure attended Steamboat Springs Middle School and the high school, where she continued to learn and grown. But she faced another traumatic circumstance when her father was diagnosed with cancer and died when she was 14.

“That was really hard for me because I was really close to my dad,” McClure said. “I was a ‘daddy’s girl,’ and that is the reason why I want to go to college … to make him proud of me.”

McClure said it’s been a challenge as her mom is doing what she can to offer support and hold the family together.

“Just like any other family, we do our best and we move forward,” McClure said.

For her, moving forward means chasing her dreams and refusing to listen to anyone who tells her no.

At UNC, McClure was pursuing a certificate in musical theater, but her plan now is to shift to the college of biological science. She hopes to begin her education in pre-health with designs on going on graduate school and getting a doctorate in physical therapy.

“I’ve been told no so many times by so many people. People told me I was not going be able to go to college and that I wasn’t even going be able to go graduate school afterwards,” McClure said. “People would say, ‘Maybe you want to think about doing something else.’ I just want to prove people wrong.”

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