Niagara Gazette — On the surface, Alyssandra Orfano looks like just another Niagara Falls girl who is preparing to enter college this coming semester.
When Aly, as she's better known, begins her freshman year at Niagara, she will bring with her a unique background story.
She was born in Russia, adopted by an American family, was underweight as a small child and overcame some health issues while growing up. She discovered sports until, finally, she found the sport that would help earn her a partial athletic scholarship to go along with her academic scholarship.
During her interview with the Gazette, Orfano sat in the lounge on the lower level of the Gallagher Center on the Niagara campus. As she took in the environment, Aly realized the challenges that await her when she runs with the Purple Eagles cross country team.
"I'm excited, very excited, but it's going to be really different from high school because it's going to be a lot better," she said. "I'm just going to try and work up to what I can do and just do my best."
Overcoming the odds is nothing new to the young woman. Her mother, Ann Marie Orfano, recalls when they first adopted Aly from Russia.
“She was born at four pounds and when we went to pick her up from Russia, she at 14 months only weighed 14 pounds,” said Mrs. Orfano. "She was always the smallest, the tiniest in weight. I always said she was always two steps behind in everything.
Not for long. Within this little girl there emerged the talent for running.
“I knew she had something when she was about fifth grade,” Mrs. Orfano added. “We were probably about a half mile from the house, she had flip flops on, and I was riding my bike and said ‘Aly, let’s go home.’ She beat me home in flip flops.”