Tourette's Syndrome Doesn't Stop NY Teen's Dreams

Nikki Blowers, 18, hopes to be a Rhodes scholar and TV host.

ByABC News
March 16, 2012, 1:08 PM

March 17, 2012— -- Nikole (Nikki) Blowers, a freshman at the University of Rochester, is always on the move. Before dawn she walks three miles to a nearby river for crew practice. Then she tutors for an hour. After her first class, she catches up on email and plans future events for her clubs. And all this before lunch.

Blowers, 18, can control her busy schedule, but the one thing she can't control is her body. She has Tourette's Syndrome (TS), a neuro-biological disorder. The disorder is characterized by a combination of physical and verbal tics. The verbal tics can be vocalizations such as grunts, sniffing, little throat-clearing sounds and, in about 10 to 15 percent of cases, outbursts of involuntary cursing or foul language.

Blowers' tics, however, are physical.

"I wish I could just, like, sit still and do whatever. But I can't. There's no way you can, like, cover these up," she told ABC in 2008, when she was one of four girls with Tourette's profiled on an Emmy-winning ABC News Primetime.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, three of every 1,000 children age six through 17 have been diagnosed with TS. TS affects people of all racial and ethnic groups. It has no known cause or cure.

Finding the positive side of not sitting still, Blowers has moved forward with her education and her life.

She is attending Rochester on a full scholarship, majoring in economics/business with a minor in Chinese. She plans to spend her junior year in China.

She dreams of being a Rhodes Scholar and pursuing graduate study at Harvard. Her career goals include managing an American company in China and hosting her own TV show.

"I kind of dream of being a young version of Barbara Walters and interviewing the world's most fascinating," Blowers said.

This may not be as far-fetched as it seems. When she was 15, Blowers had her own cooking show on the local PBS station near her family's farm in upstate New York.

"I love to cook," said Blowers. "One thing that I found is that when you throw your arm out, it could be dangerous when you are cutting with a knife. ... I have a solution for that. Always cook alone."

Making her achievements and ambitions more noteworthy, Blowers' tics have gotten worse since 2008, she said. She took medications for them then, but the side effects were awful, her mother, Mary Blowers, said. Nikki Blowers' doctor has said she would probably not outgrow the tics.

If Tourette's hasn't stopped Nikki Blowers' accomplishments, she said it has put a dent in her social life. Her tics are most frequent at day's end, so she tends to keep to her room in the evenings.

Blowers is tackling her social setbacks with the intelligence and outward drive so clear elsewhere in her life: She wants to start a group at Rochester for students with Tourette's.

"I would like to have some speakers and events, but mostly unite the [students with Tourette's] so that they can (if they want to) have other people to talk to and do things with," she wrote in an email.

"I don't like to think of myself as a role model, but certainly evidence of not letting TS get in the way," she wrote. "More than anything, I am comfortable with who I am and like to help other people reach that same place with themselves."

Watch the full story on "My Extreme Affliction" tonight at 9 p.m. ET

ABC News' Jane E. Allen contributed to this report.