By the end of this summer, 33 year old Deja Nicolas will have served 16 years in the Army (14 years of active duty and two years in the Reserves). She’ll also have applied to medical school, and will no doubt be preparing to start as a medical student next fall. When I met with her a few weeks ago to talk about the 2023 Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon and being a Legacy of Hope sponsored athlete, I was struck by the positive energy she exudes. Deja’s vibe is one of rock steady confidence, poise, focus, gratitude and persistence.
Originally from Queens, NYC, Deja grew up in a single parent household, relocating a lot as a child. She knows she wasn’t dealt an easy hand in life, but matter-of-factly asserts “it’s not about the hand you’re dealt, it's what you do with those cards. That’s been my story consistently. If I show up and feel somewhat disadvantaged, I find a way. I’m always asking: How can I be optimistic? How can I make this work? How can I create a community? Although I might not have the means at a given moment—how can I contribute even if my cup might be empty?” Her story bears that out.
Deja always wanted to go into medicine. Her mother is a nurse, which likely cultivated her interest in healthcare. As a teen, Deja attended a health-sciences enrichment camp to start her journey toward healthcare. That journey took an unfortunate but significant turn when she was just 18 years old; she lost her first child to a fetal anomaly but she also shares “I didn’t receive adequate prenatal care. That was a testimony in itself, which strengthened my will.” The day after graduating high school, at age 17, she enlisted in the Army, and over the course of 14 years of active duty, during which she has worked as a communications sergeant and a medical service corps officer leading to promotions to the rank of Captain. This Bronze Star medal recipient has served in over ten duty locations, including deployments to Afghanistan. Her most recent overseas relocation was from Germany to Philadelphia. She is currently enrolled full-time in Thomas Jefferson University’s post baccalaureate pre-med program which she completes in April. Deja is also a proud alumna of Fayetteville State University, a Historically Bla