Few people know what it takes to overcome a disability more than Meagan Warnica.

The University of Waterloo grad student was recently awarded a special grant designed to support her studies while she copes with an invisible disability.

It wasn’t always like that. As a 17-year-old, Warnica was looking ahead to the rest of her life and making plans for university.

But then came a car crash, causing a broken pelvis, broken ankle and a brain injury. All of a sudden, everything changed.

She began experiencing problems with short-term memory and chronic back pain. Seven years later, they haven’t subsided.

“I have short-term memory loss now, and that affects things like reading, and obviously my work at school,” she says.

At first, Warnica was reluctant to tell others about her disability, because she was concerned about being stigmatized.

“There’s really no point in telling people, because they will just treat you differently,” he says.

“Just looking at me, I look normal, just like anybody else. I find it really hard to accept that I’m different from other people.”

When Warnica registered at the University of Waterloo, she identified herself to the school’s office for persons with disabilities, which passed the information on to her professors.

Many of them hadn’t dealt with situations like hers before, but all of them found Warnica eager to learn as much as possible, unwilling to fall back on her disability.

Warnica took a lighter course load and was given extra time to write exams, but otherwise went through university exactly the same way as other students. She’s even set a deadline for herself of finishing her master’s degree in the typical two-year window.

“She hasn’t used her disability as an excuse at all,” says. Dr. Andrew Laing, who taught Warnica in a biomechanics class and is now supervising her master’s degree.

“She kind of exceeded all the expectations that I had for her and for any grad student in general.”

Earlier this month, Warnica’s graduate research on rehabilitation was recognized with a TD Grant.

“I’m really thankful there are programs out there that recognize stuff like that,” she says.

Warnica plans to use the money from the grant to help her focus on her studies, by paying for things like a new sit-and-stand desk to alleviate her chronic back pain.

In the longer term, she’s not sure if she’ll try for a doctorate or transition into a career, but she does hope her research will help others to have a better quality of life.