Balancing Act: One UAB student’s story of strength and determination

UAB junior Zoe Champion balances being a full-time student and caregiver to her parents.
Written by: Chelsea Eytel
Media Contact: Adam Pope

Zoe Inside“UAB is my home. I will bleed green and gold until the day I die,” Champion said. University of Alabama at Birmingham junior kinesiology major Zoe Champion embodies resilience, balancing the rigors of college life with the selfless role of full-time caregiver to her seriously ill parents.

In the eighth grade, Champion’s family experienced their first bit of adversity when her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Then, just a few years later, her father was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — an extremely rare diagnosis that few medical professionals have seen before.

Junior year is pivotal for most high school students to decide where to go to college. That was no different for the Leeds, Alabama, native, as she earned multiple scholarships through her involvement with Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen competition and other academic scholarships. Champion earned eight full-ride scholarships to other universities but knew she needed to stay close to home to support and care for her family.

“I had a tough decision to make with how quickly my father was declining,” Champion said. “My sister graduated from UAB, and she helps take care of my parents, too; but my heart was telling me to stay home and take care of them.”

She ultimately decided to take a campus tour because of its proximity to home, but that tour and an important letter were why she chose UAB.

“During the tour, UAB felt like home to me, and everything perfectly fell in place somehow,” she said. “I opened the mail one day and received the presidential scholarship to UAB, and that was the moment I realized this was the choice I needed to make.”

“UAB and being a part of the dance team has added a layer of joy to my spirit.”


Champion chose to commute from her home to care for her parents. However, that did not stop her from finding ways to get involved on campus and make her college experience the best possible.

She quickly adjusted to her full-time college student and caregiver roles, taking as many courses as she could online.

“I love the flexibility with the online courses offered at UAB,” Champion said. “There are so many courses I can take virtually. UAB is one of the only schools that has that ability.”

Champion earned a spot on the UAB Golden Girls dance team, adding a third title to her existing list.

“I feel like, if I didn’t have UAB and Golden Girls, I wouldn’t have an outlet just for me that brings me joy outside of my home life,” Champion said. “UAB and being a part of the dance team has added a layer of joy to my spirit. I leave things at the door when I put my student and dancer hats on so I can give 100 percent when I’m there.”

Finding a path

Champion chose to study kinesiology, within the UAB School of Education, because of her desire to be a physical therapist.

“My entire senior year of high school, I asked people what I should major in to be a physical therapist, and everyone said exercise science,” Champion said. “I asked physical therapists and doctors, and they all said kinesiology would be my best route. As a physical therapist, I hope to help families who are affected by devastating diseases like ALS. My ultimate goal is to help them and be a relatable outlet for them and continue living by Live Like Lou’s mission of leaving ALS better than I found it.”

Champion has continued to stay optimistic and appreciative of the kinesiology program’s compassionate faculty.

“Every professor in the kinesiology program has been absolutely fantastic,” Champion said. “They have all had so much compassion toward me and been willing to work with me and everything I have going on at home. I’m grateful for that. I have been fortunate to have the professors I have had and my learning experiences.”

Help on the way

In addition to her school and caregiving responsibilities, Champion found herself challenged with finding and applying for caregiver scholarships to help her family financially. That is where she discovered the Live Like Lou Memorial scholarship and the Team Hilliard Foundation.

The Team Hilliard Foundation’s mission is to raise awareness about ALS, supporting research, treatments and families facing the disease. The Hilliard family created the foundation to honor the passing of Jim Hilliard, who lost his battle with ALS in 2021. Sam Hilliard, a professional baseball player with the Atlanta Braves, is a co-founder and uses his platform to create awareness.

In June 2023, Champion received the Lou Gehrig Memorial Scholarship of $2,130. The Team Hilliard Foundation matched the $2,130 scholarship, totaling her scholarship to $4,260. During an Atlanta Braves baseball game, Champion was presented with the award and had the chance to meet other families battling the same disease.

“I met a lot of people who have experience dealing with ALS through this scholarship process,” she said. “It really meant a lot to me that a Major League Baseball player read my essay and story and knew what I was going through. People know it is severe and what it is, but they don’t know the effects and what the families are going through. No one knows unless they’re dealing with it. Finding someone who can relate makes you feel better and gives you someone to talk to.”

Even amid the whirlwind of academic demands and her vital role as a caregiver, Champion proudly cherishes her place within the UAB family.

“UAB is my home. I will bleed green and gold until the day I die,” Champion said. “I love it here and feel incredibly fortunate to be a student here and part of the athletics world.”