Student with Tourette’s wins speech competition

A Las Positas College student is being praised for her victory at a national speech championship last month despite having a mild form of a neurological disorder.

The college announced Tuesday that Katie Lai won a gold medal in the informative speech category at the Phi Rho Pi National Forensics Tournament, held in Cleveland, Ohio.

The competition tasks students with creating informative and compelling 10-minute speeches, according to school officials.

The 19 year-old Pleasanton native took the top spot out of 70 competitors from across the country after giving an informative speech on Qmilch, a German-based company that turns milk proteins into a silky fabric, school officials said.

Even though Lai has been diagnosed with a mild form of Tourette syndrome, she said she doesn’t let that stop her from achieving her goals.

Lai said in a statement that she gets tics when she’s excited or nervous, but the hyper-focused nature of the speaking events actually helps her suppress her outbursts:

“When I’m in an environment where I have to be very focused, like forensics, it’s easier for me to suppress the tics and it kind of goes on the backburner. Once I’m up there, in front of an audience, I go into speaking mode. I feel like I try not to use Tourette syndrome as an excuse.”

Lai added:

“So yeah, my tics are something that I do all the time and it’s natural to me, but it’s not going to ruin my life. It’s how I look at things, and it has probably helped in a positive way.”

Initially, Lai said she was shocked to hear her name called as the winner, since she received low preliminary scores and barely made it into the semi-finals round.

Las Positas College director of forensics Janet Brehe Johnson said:

“She’s so deserving. … I think it makes it so much more powerful that she has to deal with something that most people don’t have to deal with and she’s found a way to shine through it all.”