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Miss Iowa tells students to look past differences

Published: Thursday, April 17, 2014 11:00 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — Nicole Kelly may have been born without a left forearm, but that didn’t stop her from participating in different activities growing up.

“When I’d play softball, I’d catch the ball, throw the ball up in the air, I’d drop my glove, catch the ball again and I would throw the ball,” said Kelly, the reigning Miss Iowa, who grew up playing soccer, basketball and softball.

Wearing her sash and tiara, Kelly spoke to Sunnyside Elementary School students Tuesday afternoon.

“I have learned how to do everything just like you guys learned how to do everything, but I just do it a little bit different,” she told the students.

Kelly also noted everyone has things that makes them different.

“Maybe some of us wears glasses or maybe some of us live with mom instead of mom and dad,” she said. “These are things that may make us feel a little different, but that does not make it bad.”

Kelly said she loves it when people ask her questions, so she encouraged the students to ask questions about someone who may look different than them.

“When you see someone that has something that is different then you, don’t be scared to ask about it and don’t be mean about it,” she said. “If you ask questions, that person will be able to answer those questions, and I bet they will make it so you are not scared of what their difference is. Instead, it will probably be something that turns out really cool instead.”

As students walked in the school gymnasium, they were in awe of Kelly. Some pointed, while others just stared.

Some students also were vocal with their thoughts. One said, “she is pretty.” Another said, “she looks like a queen.” A third student bluntly asked, “Where is your arm?”

One student who was particularly excited to see Kelly was first-grader Nyasia Gerling.

Gerling suffers from brachial plexus, which is a loss of movement or weakness of the arm that occurs when the collection of nerves around the shoulder are damaged during birth. The bundle of nerves is the brachial plexus.

“When she was born, she had no nerve function to that arm,” said Ingrid Gerling, a regular education associate at Sunnyside and Nyasia’s mother. “The two bottom nerves are your hand nerves and those were completely torn from her spine, which is why her hand was so severely injured.”

Nyasia Gerling, 7, has undergone different surgeries and will have another this summer. She wears a brace for her right hand.

“The brace keeps her hand in a regular position,” Ingrid Gerling said. “Her hand was like a claw.”

Because of her daughter’s condition, Ingrid Gerling said bringing Kelly to Sunnyside is perfect for her daughter and for her classmates.

“I know my daughter is a lot like Kelly, and I knew my daughter would love to meet her,” Ingrid Gerling said. “She can’t use her arm to the fullest extent, and she knows Miss Iowa can’t either. She loves knowing people that have the same thing wrong with them.”

After Kelly gave a presentation to the students, she stayed and posed for pictures. Once the other students went to recess, Kelly spent about 15 minutes bonding with Nyasia Gerling.

“She has the same kind of arm as me,” the shy, soft-spoken first-grader said. “She taught me that everyone is the same.”

Kelly said she wanted the students to know just because they have a disability does not mean they shouldn’t be treated the same as everyone else.

“Everyone has something that is different, even if it’s not something that you can see,” she said. “I wanted to encourage the kids to ask questions and to remind them that it’s not scary to talk about.”

Kelly will be Miss Iowa until June 14, when she will pass on her crown.

“The last year has been a whirlwind,” she said. “Either I’ve been in front of people giving presentations or I’ve been in a car for several hours. I’ve traveled all over the country, and it’s been wonderful.”

Once her reign as Miss Iowa ends, Kelly said she still plans to give presentations.

“I will continue speaking without the crown,” she said. “I will still speak to people even without the crown on my head.”


©2014 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

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