Seven-year-old Anaya Ellick, who was born with no hands and does not use prostheses, recently won a national penmanship contest.
Holding the pencil between her wrists, the first-grader at Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake, Va., formed neat, careful letters, earning her the Nicholas Maxim Special Award for Excellence in Manuscript Penmanship. The award is one of several that the educational company Zaner-Bloser gives out every year.
"Anaya is a remarkable young lady. She does not let anything get in the way of doing what she has set out to do," said GCA Principal Tracy Cox in a statement from the school. "She is a hard worker and has some of the best handwriting in her class. Her determination is an inspiration to all of us at GCA."
To enter the contest for the Nicholas Maxim Award, "a student must have a cognitive delay, or an intellectual, physical or developmental disability," Zaner-Bloser said in a statement, adding that a team of occupational therapists judges the entries. A spokesman from Zaner-Bloser told NPR that there were about 50 entries this year.
Contest director Kathleen Wright said the judges were "just stunned" by the quality of Anaya's printing. "Her writing sample was comparable to someone who had hands."
Though Anaya's arms end in tapered wrists instead of hands, she is developmentally normal in every other respect, according to a profile by The Virginian-Pilot.
Except, perhaps, for the unwavering sense of determination that she's had since birth.
The newspaper wrote that when Anaya was an infant, "she couldn't hold a pacifier, but she was keeping it in her mouth by cupping it there with one arm. While still a baby she figured out how to hold a fork to eat and how to build with blocks."
The newspaper adds that Anaya doesn't let anything keep her from doing what she wants to do.
"When she wanted to draw, she learned how to balance a crayon or marker between her arms," the Pilot wrote. "By the time she was 5, she stopped using prosthetics." Her mother, Bianca Middleton, said they were "slowing her down more than helping."
She's precocious in other ways, as well.
"One day, as she and her father walked around a grocery store, he made observations about various vegetables. Three times she stopped to correct him," the newspaper says.
Middleton told ABC that her daughter's can-do attitude is an inspiration.
"She helps teach me things I take for granted every day, you know, and I look at her like, 'Wow, she's not complaining, never complains.' "