Zaphire Alonso crosses the U.S. border and rides the trolley twice a week to attend City College.
In a wheelchair.
Her boyfriend, Bernardo Machado, drops her off at the south side of the border at 7:45 a.m. She pushes herself through the handicap lane of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, shows the Border Patrol officer her U.S. passport and then catches the northbound “Blue Line” trolley at the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS).
Almost two hours later, she’s victorious, making it on time to her first class. “I haven’t been (late) yet,” Alonso said, “and I don’t think my teacher will be too mad if I am.”
Her journey is much more than that, however.
Alonso, 20, lost her left leg in a motorcycle accident on Aug. 16 while vacationing with a City College classmate in Cancún. Hospitalizations followed, first in Mexico then in San Diego, ensued by a months-long rehabilitation process.
She had a pelvis operation at the UC San Diego Medical Center, then moved to the Valle Vista Convalescent Hospital in Escondido, to receive additional treatment. At the facility, she received a notice of approval for a prosthetic leg.
“They just gave it to me and it feels good,” said Alonso just after receiving it days before school started. “I only use it with crutches though.”
The prosthetic leg is made of titanium and she admitted that it will take her a while to get accustomed to walking with it. For now, she will utilize her wheelchair to travel to and from school, and around campus.
Alonso is used to overcoming adversity.
In 2014 she was homeless and still able to graduate as valedictorian at Monarch High School. She received a Price Scholarship, which helped her to attend City College.
Last semester, Alonso was slated to take 14-15 units, and was not able to return.
Immediately after her accident, a friend, Lexi Martinez, a former Monarch student and current City College student, created a GoFundMe campaign that raised $16,883 in 25 days to help cover her medical bills.
On Sept. 7, Alonso returned to the U.S. and checked into the UC San Diego Medical Center to continue her treatment.
“I remember reading her story,” said Tom Fine, City College Campus Project Manager, “and it was truly inspiring to learn about her courage and her outlook on life.”
With the hilly terrain of the campus, Alonso said that she has problems pushing herself up certain areas, and sometimes gets stranded.
Fine produced a map when City Times requested the best method for people in wheelchairs to get from the MSS Building to Harry West Gym.
During her recuperation process, Alonso couldn’t see her boyfriend because he can’t cross the border and the only way they communicated was via social media. She was not sure what to expect after the accident.
“I felt insecure, I thought that he wasn’t going to look at me like a woman,” Alonso said, “He changed a lot, he changed for the better.”
She said their relationship is now stronger than ever.
Before her accident, Alonso wanted to become social worker. Her accident has changed her outlook slightly. “I now also want to work with people that have medical conditions.”
Alonso remains optimistic. She said she’s glad to be back at City College, where she’s taking 11 units this spring.
She said she recently rewarded herself with a tattoo scripted along her inner bicep which reads in Spanish: “Pies para que los quiero si tengo alas para volar.”
The phrase means, “What do I want feet for, when I have wings to fly.”