The star 22-year-old running back at the University of Georgia — the #1 ranked college football team in the nation — has an incredible life story. To look at Zamir White now, at six feet tall and weighing 225 pounds, you’d never know that while six months pregnant with him, his 14-year-old mother Shanee White was urged to consider abortion because her son was measuring small for his gestational age. Fortunately, the boy’s great-grandmother intervened and saved him.
In an interview with ESPN, Shanee remembered that her grandmother Nancy White told her at the time, “We’re not going to terminate the pregnancy. No matter what’s wrong with him, he’s going to be born.” A frightened and overwhelmed Shanee told her grandmother that they should listen to the doctor since he was an authority figure. But Nancy responded, “The doctor is not God, so he doesn’t have the last say. If he takes one breath, he’s going to take it.”
But Zamir’s problems were far from over after his mother bravely chose life for him. When he was born on September 18, 1999, weighing a very respectable seven pounds, his mother and medical team saw that he was among the one in 1,600 children born each year with a cleft lip and palate. Zamir was transferred the following day to a larger medical facility because his lip and palate issues kept him from eating enough to maintain his own body temperature. Again, Shanee received dire warnings from health care professionals, as she was told that her son might not live another two weeks.
Zamir White was born a fighter.
The baby boy that was given just two weeks to live is now the leading rusher on the No. 1 team in the country and an inspiration to so many. @zeus1_34 @MartySmithESPN pic.twitter.com/aJEhoIqgsO
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 30, 2021
Zamir spent three months in the hospital before being discharged home with his mom and great-grandmother, who fed him with a medicine dropper to accommodate his lip and palate. When he was just six months old, he had the first of two surgeries to address the cleft lip and palate, and then another surgery at 15 months for kidney problems. A fourth surgery corrected a hernia, and then a fifth surgery several years later further improved his lip and palate.
The family suffered the loss of their earthly belongings in a fire when Zamir was four years old. His father was not in his life, in part because he went to prison not long after Zamir was born. Growing up in Laurinburg, the fourth poorest city in North Carolina, many of Zamir’s peers “fell victim to the streets,” according to Shanee, who is now a corrections officer.
From an outsider’s perspective, the odds were clearly stacked against Zamir’s success in multiple ways.
But his great-uncle stepped in as a father figure, and at age six his family started him in recreation league football. The football field became the great equalizer for Zamir, who told ESPN, “It’s just a safe space for me [where] I can get away from everything I’ve been through. It’s just like therapy for me. I love football.” Zamir went on to excel in high school and was heavily recruited to play college ball at some of the nation’s top schools, despite battling a torn ACL in his right knee his senior year of high school and then a torn ACL in his left knee during his first year at the University of Georgia.
Zamir’s coach Dell McGee reflected that the obstacles he faced early on and throughout his life prepared Zamir to persevere through what could otherwise have been crushing back-to-back injuries. “I just think it added to his ability to cope with outside factors,” said McGee. “It showed a lot of resiliency. Just that mindset of ‘nothing’s too big, I can overcome anything, any obstacle.’ I think all of that from his childhood growing up helped with those issues that he’s overcome.”
Next, the college standout has his sights set on the 2022 NFL draft.
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Zamir is as driven off the field as he is on it, inspired to repay those who have invested in him and to pay their goodness forward. Speaking of his mother, he said, “[A]fter having me so early, and seeing her keep fighting no matter what, I’m proud of her. That’s something I’ve got to pay her back for. I know she’s not expecting it. My mother doesn’t care about material things, but my goal is to make it to the NFL and support my mother, sister, and aunts for what they did for me.” Zamir also works with the disabilities organization Extra Special People and eagerly serves as a role model for children born with cleft lip and cleft palate.
Ashley Collins, a University of Georgia Bulldogs fan, was personally impacted by Zamir’s story. She and her husband met Zamir in 2019, not long after learning that their preborn daughter Harper would be born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. They, too, were encouraged to abort. She shared, “Already knowing Zamir’s story at the time and then kind of relating it, you’re thinking, ‘Well, what if his mom had done the same thing?’ This is not a life-threatening condition. They’re going to have a good, sustainable life and be normal. For anyone to have even suggested [abortion] was mind-blowing and shocking.” Harper is now two years old, has had two corrective surgeries, and is thriving.
Zamir’s story is a case study in many of the so-called justifications for legal abortion. Born to a single mother and with an absentee father in prison, early medical issues, surrounded by poverty — if given a predictive vision, many would have judged Zamir’s life not worthy of living. But the crucible of early suffering has tempered Zamir instead of breaking him, and his experiences have inspired many others to live courageously, whatever their circumstances.
His mother told ESPN, “I’m just glad I listened to my grandma. I didn’t want to have a child in high school. It wasn’t something that was planned, but it happened and he’s here, and I love him to death.”
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