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Building Connections

Building Connections

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Jalen Gordon’s last few months at Miami are proving to be plenty busy.

He wouldn’t have it any other way – not when pursuing a lifelong dream.

Gordon, a senior sprinter, is navigating his final track and field season as a Hurricane. He’s working to complete a biology degree and is preparing for the Medical College Admission Test, widely regarded the most difficult graduate school entrance exam in the country.

He’s also the president of the University’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and is on the executive board of the athletic department’s Black Student-Athlete Alliance.

And though his schedule is plenty full, every Monday and Tuesday, he spends time shadowing Miami team physician Dr. Thomas Best, getting an up-close-and-personal look at what it’s like to practice medicine in South Florida and seeing how the doctor interacts with his patients.

It’s been an incredible opportunity, Gordon says, and one he doesn’t take for granted.

“He’s a very busy man, but he was gracious enough to let me shadow him and learn from him and it’s been awesome,” Gordon said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to shadow various doctors that kind of have the same philosophy when it comes to treating patients as people. He spends time with his patients. He makes a personal connection with them, which I think has been really important. And obviously, he also shares his knowledge.

“The athletic trainers who work with him, he treats them like equals, and he asks their opinions on patients. It’s awesome to see all of that, to see somebody who not necessarily suffering from the superiority complex that some doctors could typically have.”

Those who know Gordon would say it’s no surprise the aspiring doctor is a fan of Best’s bedside manner.

Since taking over as the president of SAAC and joining the BSAA, Gordon has made it a point to try and connect with as many of Miami’s student-athletes as possible. He strives to bring different athletic teams together so student-athletes can get to know each other and expand their social circles.

And he makes it a point to try and be a presence at as many department events as possible, particularly those he knows will help him meet some of the newest Hurricanes on campus, whether they’re transfers or freshmen.

“I think with Jalen, what’s interesting is that whenever we have an event or there’s a student-athlete on a panel or doing something, Jalen is going to be there to support them,” said LaToya Farris, Miami’s Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development. “He knows athletes are doing other things outside of their sport, so he wants to show his support. I think that goes back to him being about the people. He really, truly shows up for people and I think that’s part of what’s really awesome about Jalen.”

Said Gordon, of his people-centric approach to campus leadership, “I think it’s super easy when you first come here to just focus on your sport and academics and just do that all the time. But I always love to say to freshmen or transfers when I’m talking about SAAC is that it’s a way for you to enrich yourself beyond just athletics. Most of us aren’t going to be professional in our sports. So, it’s important for you to be able to witness other things and enrich yourself, whether it’s making connections when you’re doing community service or when you’re at networking events, things like that. … When you meet people and you’re able to make connections, you give yourself more opportunities and make yourself a better person overall, too.”

During his time at Miami, Gordon has also had the opportunity to connect with student-leaders across the ACC.

In 2022, he and Miami rower Alyssa Bacchus were selected to participate in the conference’s Unity Tour to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama along with student-athletes from not just the ACC, but the Big Ten and Pac-12.

During the trip, Gordon and the rest of the participants marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and visited the Civil Rights Memorial Center, among other activities.

A year later, Gordon also participated in the Unity Tour to Washington, D.C. and both trips, he said, helped shape his experience at Miami.

“It was a great idea to combine the Big 10, Pac-12 and the ACC and just have so many different student-athletes from all over the country come together and experience something that was so powerful,” he said. “Having people speak to us, to see the various museums and things like that was great. You won’t know how to change things if you don’t know the history, so it was great to see everything, to be able to walk the bridge and then they improved it again the following year when we went to Washington, D.C. That was also amazing. I think in terms of creating better leaders, things like that are very important. You have to have kind of a holistic view on history and society to be able to make important changes and important decisions for your institution.”

Gordon – who hails from Kingwood, Texas – says coming to Miami has been a life-changing experience.

He’s found success on the track, where just last week he posted a new personal best of 21.57 seconds in the 200-meter at the ACC Indoor Track & Field Championships and where last spring, he earned a bronze medal as part of the 4×400 relay team at the ACC Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

He’s found his voice as a leader and is moving closer to pursuing his career goals – all while making a difference in the South Florida community.

“I think when I got accepted to Miami was honestly one of the best days of my life and coming here has exceeded expectations,” Gordon said. “Being in a busy city like this has a bunch of opportunities. I think that’s honestly the best thing that could have happened for me. I’ve been able to make so many friends and connections … College is the time when you really become an adult and you form your own values and things like that. I’ve been happy and blessed to be able to experience as much as I have in a place that allows you to do all that you want.”

Said Farris, “I think one day, I’m going to read an article and it’s going to say Dr. Jalen Gordon did this groundbreaking thing and I’m going to be like, ‘Wow. I knew him when he was in Leadership Academy.’ But I won’t be surprised by what he does. I just know whatever it is, it’s going to be amazing.”