© Kristen Zeis/The Virginian-Pilot/TNS Anaya Ellick works on a hidden image project during art class at Greenbriar Christian Academy in… By...
By Mike Connors, The Virginian-Pilot, Tribune News Service
Anaya Ellick was born without hands — she has stubs where most people's wrists begin.
To hold a pencil, she must balance it between her wrists, then use her arms to push it along the page. But that didn't stop her from winning a national handwriting contest when she was in first grade.
In the two years since, she has taken on greater challenges. Last week, she won another national handwriting contest, this one for cursive. And by all accounts from her teachers at Greenbrier Christian Academy, she has become an accomplished artist.
Anaya isn't one to brag about her successes. She begrudgingly says they make her proud but adds that they come from "lots of practice."
Her friends at school, though, aren't shy about describing how her determination rubs off on them.
"She inspires everybody by what she does and how she does it," fellow third-grader Carter Diehl said.
Anaya's mother, Bianca Middleton, says being a parent can be scary. No one wants their child to fail, and raising one who was born with a disability can heighten that protective instinct.
Before Anaya was born, doctors knew about her condition, although not its cause. Other than having no hands, she is a regular 9-year-old girl.
Anaya succeeds because she is not afraid to fail, Middleton said. The two began practicing cursive last year, when Anaya was in second grade. She struggled sometimes, because unlike traditional penmanship, which allows for breaks after each letter, cursive words are written straight through — an added effort for someone who must balance rather than hold the pencil.
Middleton could see her daughter thinking through the challenge, figuring out how she could do better. She'd get frustrated at times, but she never hesitated to do things as often as it took to get them right.
"I don't think I've ever heard Anaya say I can't do something," Middleton said.
That attitude carries over to her other interests.
Recently, Anaya and her classmates sat in Cheryl Leader's art room, working on an exercise. The goal was to get them thinking about different concepts, like color combinations and how an image can be formed by fully coloring inside straight and diagonal lines.
Anaya went right to work drawing a palm tree. Unlike the two boys near her, she couldn't simply grab a different pencil each time she wanted to switch colors. Instead, she stood up, plunged her arms into the box in the center of the table and sifted through until she had the right one.
She did that more than a dozen times. Each time, she then looked intently at the many small boxes on her page and started filling them in. Occasionally, she glanced at a complex design of a boat on the wall that she used for inspiration.
While she drew, Anaya chatted calmly with her deskmates about their work.
Anaya rarely needs help during class. She's not afraid to be creative and push her limits.
"She goes right at a challenge," Leader said.
Sara Cannaday, a teacher at Greenbrier Christian for 17 years, said she'd never had a student with Anaya's disability before her. She was amazed at how the girl could easily draw pictures.
Anaya has an eye for color and detail, Cannaday said.
"I wish I could do that," she said. "She draws better than I do."
Cannaday can see an art career in Anaya's future.
Anaya loves to draw — everything from people and flowers to houses. Her goal is to make images look realistic.
Sometimes, Anaya said, she takes a long time deciding what she wants to draw. Often what she selects is something that will test her.
"It makes me get better at it when I practice things that are kind of hard," she said.