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Three Rivers Middle College student 'knows exactly what she wants to do in life, and finds a way to get there'

Desiree Zaharie knew she wanted a job helping people but wasn't sure what until two years ago, when she found herself at Yale New Haven Hospital every weekend visiting a family member in a coma.

Two years ago, when Zaharie was a high school sophomore, her grandfather was rushed to the hospital because he turned blue and couldn't breathe. She said he is doing well now — but at the time, he was in a coma for 57 days.

She remembers how reassuring the nurses were.

"I just wanted to be that person. I wanted to be that person that helped everybody and made them feel OK," Zaharie said. She was also the one to ask questions.

Zaharie describes this experience as influencing her decision to become a nurse. The 18-year-old is graduating from Three Rivers Middle College High School having completed all the prerequisites to enter a college nursing program in the fall, something Principal Brad Columbus described as a "very rare accomplishment."

Zaharie started her high school career at Stonington High School and said she was doing well academically but wanted more of a challenge, and knowing she wanted to go into nursing, she wanted to get a jump-start so she could save money on college.

She transferred to Three Rivers her junior year and ended up placing out of all high school classes except chemistry, meaning she has just been taking college courses. She took a biology class last summer so she could take Anatomy & Physiology I and II this year.

She also shadowed a nurse at Hasbro Children's Hospital for a day her junior year. She said the nurse talked her through the process of putting an IV in and explained proper sanitization procedures, and she recalled a moment where a boy rang a bell because he was free of cancer.

"She came in with a plan, and really an academic plan to get as far as possible as she could with the nursing program," Columbus said. He said she is "really independent and focused and driven" but also a big part of the community through planning events and being a member of the National Honor Society.

Zaharie initially had her mind set on going away for college but "fell in love" with the University of Rhode Island during a visit her junior year.

Questioning how much she wanted to spend for college also put the decision in perspective: Going to URI, she could commute. Zaharie has been working at The Pizza Lady in Pawcatuck — alongside her mother, the manager — for four years, and will continue working there in college.

Given her chosen field and love of physical fitness, the beautiful biology and health sciences hall and the gym at URI also appealed to Zaharie.

Balancing schoolwork with gymnastics and dance

Starting gymnastics around age 3, Zaharie went to the Ocean Community YMCA before joining the Stonington High School gymnastics team, which involved practicing six days a week for three hours, and is now "recently retired."

"My high school gymnastics team was unbelievable. I love them so much. We broke our school record together, we got second place at states, we won an ECC title," she said. She won the sportsmanship and most improved awards last year, and the coach's award this year.

Coach Leslie Gomes said Zaharie is "definitely focused, hardworking, knows exactly what she wants to do in life, and finds a way to get there." She said Zaharie, one of the team captains this year, serves as a good role model and always has seemed mature.

Gymnastics was different during the coronavirus pandemic: Zaharie said gymnasts had to wear masks between every event, and bring their own chalk and spray bottle for bars.

She said her favorite event is floor "because I'm a dancer and I can't fall off of that." Zaharie also does tap, ballet, jazz and hip-hop, and she has gone to Jeanne's Dance & Gymnastics Centre in Westerly, where she teaches gymnastics classes. She says gymnastics and dance have helped her in other areas of life by teaching her balance and time management.

She doesn't plan on continuing gymnastics in college but does want to stay active, and she might check out URI's dance club.

After getting a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, Zaharie is leaning toward becoming a nurse practitioner and working with kids. She dreams of someday opening her own practice.

e.moser@theday.com

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