This little girl is an inspiration. I hope all those who have a disability will follow her example. This is a testament to Annie having a can-do attitude and her not letting anything stop her from attaining great achievements. This girl happens to be from my neck of the woods, in the Pittsburgh area. Her parents must be so very proud of her fantastic accomplishment.
Students and faculty erupted in cheers on Wednesday as Annie Clark walked onto the basketball court at Wilson Christian Academy in West Mifflin.
Wearing the school's colors, from a yellow bow in her hair and matching cardigan to sparkling blue flats, the surprised first-grader blushed slightly and offered a faint smile as she clutched a trophy about half her height and a check for $1,000.
She learned she is the first recipient of the Nicholas Maxim Award, a prize from educational publisher Zaner-Bloser Inc. that recognizes exemplary penmanship among students with disabilities.
Annie, 7, was born without hands and won the competition for using her arms to write.
Someone asked afterward if she was scared.
"Not really," Annie said, "but kind of."
Tom and Mary Ellen Clark looked on proudly as their daughter received her award, and classmates doted over Annie as she demonstrated how she grips a pencil between her forearms to precisely write on lined paper.
Annie is one of nine Clark children, ages 4 to 29. The couple have three children biologically, including a daughter with Down syndrome, and adopted six from China over 17 years. Four of them, including Annie, have disabilities involving their hands or arms. Another child has Down syndrome.
"Each time, we weren't looking to adopt a special-needs child, but that is what happened," said Mary Ellen Clark, 48, of McKeesport. "This was the family God wanted for us."
Zaner-Bloser, based in Columbus, Ohio, this year created a category for students with disabilities after Nicholas Maxim, a Maine fifth-grader born without hands or lower arms, entered the 2011 general contest, said Kathleen Wright, head of the company's handwriting department. The company offered two awards for special-needs students. It will recognize a student near Cleveland today.
In its 21st year, the National Handwriting Contest has grown from about 20,000 entries to more than 325,000, Wright said.
When Annie arrived in Western Pennsylvania at age 2, Mary Ellen Clark said she worried that her daughter would need specialized help. Annie needed anything but, her parents said.
In addition to writing, she paints, draws and colors. She plays the board game Battleship and swims. She dresses herself and opens cans of soda pop. She uses her iPod Touch and computers without assistance.
Annie said she one day wants to write books about animals. Fiction or nonfiction, her first-grade teacher Laura Erb asked.
"Maybe both," Annie said.
"She's an amazing little girl," said Tom Clark, 49, owner of the namesake auto dealership started by his father. "It's a shame because society places so many rules on how people should look, but the minds of these kids are phenomenal."
Mary Ellen Clark said Annie often says she wishes she had hands, and her mother encourages her to focus on what she has rather than what she does not.
"I hope this just encourages her that she can do anything," she said.
She is indeed an amazing little girl. She is a blessing from God.