Humberto Gurmilan may be Southwestern College’s most famous alumnus. Handsome, smart and talented, the Telemundo sports anchor has been seen by millions on television, billboards, buses and posters. He is an author, a college instructor and the subject of a documentary.
He is also paraplegic and scoots around the borderlands in a motorized wheelchair, which the preternaturally cheerful journalist steers like a chariot of fire.
Today’s media star and role model was a 15-year-old guitar-playing surfer in September 1994 when he and some pals set out to surf at Playas de Tijuana. After a dive from his surfboard, Gurmilan floated motionlessly in the surf and nearly drowned.
He woke up in the hospital, but could not move. His head had struck the ocean floor and his spinal cord was damaged. Gurmilan struggled to stay alive fueled by the love of his family.
“For me the family is the most important thing and the greatest support,” he said. “From recovering, going back to school, in my personal and spiritual life, my family has always been there and they motivate me to do good and positive things.”
Doctors told Gurmilan he would never walk again, but they never said he could not fly. He became a star at the Montgomery High School convergent journalism program, then he came to SWC to study journalism. While serving as news editor of The Sun, Gurmilan asked his journalism professor what he should do to prepare for a career as a broadcast journalist. His professor told him to master writing, interviewing and reporting, and to join the college’s award-winning speech and debate team to develop his speaking talents.
Gurmilan did everything he was advised to do. He became a forensics star as well as a journalism star. After graduating from SDSU he was hired by Telemundo as a sports writer. His big break came when the producer of the evening news asked Gurmilan just minutes before airtime if he could fill in for the absent sports anchor. Gurmmilan said yes, put on a coat and tie, and has been Telemundo’s sports anchor ever since.
Every weekday at 6 p.m. on XHAS Telemundo 33 San Diego/Tijuana, Gurmilan hosts his own popular sports segment. He is so much more. He has an even better mission.
“One of the reasons to why life gave me another opportunity is to be able to motivate, teach and inspire people,” he said.
In 2011 Gurmilan published an autobiography “From My Chair,” and a documentary of his life, “Una Vez Mas” (“One More Time”) premiered in 2015.
After 20 years Gurmilan faced down his greatest fear and returned to the same beach in Playas de Tijuana where he was injured to surf again. Zeji Ozeri directed the film.
“The idea of the documentary was to make his return to the ocean motivating and exciting,” said Ozeri. “The message we wanted to give out is that everything is possible.”
In the documentary, Gurmilan took the audience into his home and showed them his lifestyle.
“One of the ways I think I can do that is by being clear, honest and being open on how and who I am,” he said. “That is how someone that has a disability lives, it’s a different than people that don’t have a disability.”
Gurmilan said he enjoys conducting seminars for people with questions about his lifestyle and how to overcome a disability.
“That was a goal I had while writing the book, telling them what I think and what I feel so they can value their life and what they have,” he said. “It’s the same with the documentary. We knew it had to be open and I think it’s part of my responsibility and mission if I want to inspire and teach people, there is still a lot people must learn about disabilities. I’m not ashamed of telling them what I go through every day.”
Joaquin Elizondo, the producer, said he admired Gurmilan.
“He is a person that is not afraid of any obstacles, when he overcomes something he looks for a new challenge to beat,” Elizondo said. “The worst thing you can tell him is no. When you meet him you completely forget that he is in a wheelchair, just the way that he projects himself. When we worked together I saw him edit. He did it with such facility. He ran audio as well. Not once did he complain.”
Gurmilan teaches morning journalism and communication classes at San Diego City College, and said he desires to teach at Southwestern College.
In November the Gurmilan Foundation began working towards its goal to help teens with disabilities to earn scholarships.
“The motive is to help children with disabilities to obtain an education,” he said. “They are the ones that are going to make a change. Throughout Latin America there is still need for (improved) accessibility for disabled people. The idea is if we help these kids get careers they can make changes in the future. We want to help them help themselves and obtain careers.”
Gurmilan said he believes he can help.
“There are two things that I think are very important,” he said. “Number one it is to have good preparation and second is to never quit. If you have something in mind always keep fighting. If you can’t open one door, try another one. In every profession you will find bumps in the road. There will always be closed doors, but there will also be open doors. Perseverance is very important.”
Gurmilan’s words of wisdom are interrupted by only one thing — it is time to go on the air.