HARLINGEN — You might say there’s a bit of an “old soul” behind Norman Torres’ youthful face.

He’s had a couple of cancer scares in his life. The doctors were able to diagnose the source of his pain in time to begin treatment, and he’s been in remission for about a year.

However, Norman, 18, who will begin studying kinesiology this fall at the University of Texas at Austin, dealt with another cancer scare for years involving his friend Nick Peters.

The Harlingen High School graduate of the Class of 2017 organized numerous events for Nick and his family. He was even instrumental in Nick being named homecoming king this year.

Sadly, Nick died last year, but Norman continues to keep his memory alive.

“It’s sad to know that there are some individuals who had a promising future and they had everything going for them,” said Norm.

“They never took any wrong turns throughout their lives and they had to go through what they had to go through.”

Norm himself is enjoying great success, being awarded a Terry Scholarship to attend UT Austin.

Norm had to go through numerous steps to win the full-ride scholarship.

With so much success amid his obstacles, he pointed out that there are so many others who take life for granted. They don’t enjoy the advantages life has given them, simple blessings like health, talent and intelligence.

“I’m pretty sure everyone knows Nick would not have done that,” he said sadly.

“It’s sad that there are individuals who don’t realize what they have. They just pretty much take what they have for granted.”

Norm has learned so many lessons at a very young age. His sister Gabby has Down syndrome and autism.

“She’s an important individual who has truly shaped me to be the young man I am today,” he said in a speech.

“At a very young age, I recognized that my sister was slightly different than most individuals. She hardly spoke a word and always seemed to need more assistance than I did.”

With these realities in mind, he developed a conscientious attitude toward his sister and others in need.

“If Gabby wasn’t able to do something, I felt that it was just right for me not to do it either,” he said. “If she could, I was right alongside her trying it out.”

Norm said Gabby’s “true effect” on him took place in his teen years.

“As we’ve grown older, not only I but Gabby as well have grown to face several challenges,” Norm said. “She’s comforted me as a friend whom I could simply vent to, hug dearly, and purely share my love with.”

Such boundless love could only engender a feeling of protection.

“When I was in the fifth grade, Gabby had entered her last year in middle school,” he said. “During this time there was a teacher who had bullied my sister by teasing her with an object her doctor labeled as a ‘safety blanket.’”

He said the bullying caused the girl severe emotional stress and she was unable to return to school for several months.

“I certainly learned much from this experience,” Norm said.

“I’ve learned so many valuable lessons that I can implement into my life. To start off, she has taught me that patience is a key factor to any sort of success. Another would be to understand an individual before you judge them.”

Such experiences naturally have caused him to take a proactive approach to many issues.

Leadership qualities were a key interest among the Terry Scholarship judges, and Norm has plenty of those.

“I was the head cheerleader for this year and the class president,” he said. “I was vice president for the National Honor Society and then the student council parliamentarian.

“Along with that I was student advisory board president for the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District.”

Not only were these leadership activities important to the Terry Scholarship, they’re important to Norm.

Why?

“I guess just being active and being able to know that I was helping out my community and my school any which way that I can,” he said.

“I didn’t settle for being a regular member. I became an officer so I could input my ideas. I could input more help as an officer than I would have as a member.”

In the cases of people like Norm Torres, survival and victory involve many victories. Some die with courage and victory, others fail but never quit, showing their strength of spirit. With Norm, there’s a vibrant spirit of power made even more poignant by his affable nature.

In considering again his sister, he said, “Ultimately, she’s proven to me that no disability defines the capability of someone. He jokes, “I can’t be more thankful for her being in my life, even though she steals my Chick-Fil-A waffle fries.”

twhitehead@valleystar.