June 18, 2014 at 1:25 PM ET
Taylor Scruggs and her twin sister were born more than three months prematurely. Barely weighing 2 pounds each, both girls experienced complications, but Taylor suffered a brain hemorrhage that prompted doctors to make a severe prognosis: She would never walk nor talk.
Seventeen years later, Taylor graduated from her Texas high school, with honors, a full year early.
Defying the odds is something Taylor, who has cerebral palsy and often uses a walker, has been doing ever since she was born, she said Wednesday.
“People don’t realize what a struggle it really is, every day,” she said, wiping away a tear while sharing her story on TODAY with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.
Taylor took her first step was she was 5 and has had more than 10 surgeries since she was a child. She spends hours in physical therapy each week, yet she's never let her limited mobility prevent her from taking dance and gymnastics classes or skiing and participating in other physical sports.
In her junior year of high school, Taylor opted for a rigorous schedule that left her with only two required classes for her senior year. With the help of a school counselor, she decided to complete those courses through night school while tackling a daytime schedule full of Advanced Placement and honors courses — and she graduated a year ahead of her classmates.
Her mother, Ronna Scruggs, calls her daughter an inspiration and a hero. In a letter to TODAY, she described the physical and social obstacles Taylor has had to overcome throughout her life: navigating an old school ill-equipped for students with physical limitations, and dealing with classmates who teased her or even knocked her down.
“Through all of this, she kept a big smile on her face and was always grateful for opportunities, in spite of the extra work it was for her,” her mom wrote. She also said she hopes her daughter's story provides hope to other parents with children who received a prognosis similar to her daughter's.
Taylor, who mentors another child with cerebral palsy, said others have told her how much her perseverance has inspired and helped them.
“It’s awesome to just know all the people that I’ve touched,” she said.