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'My disability is what makes me, me'

Posted Friday, Oct. 26, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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BREAKING NEWS UPDATE:

Alejandrina Guzman never imagined being nominated for homecoming queen.

Her classmates had an even bigger surprise for her on Friday night.

The Azle High School senior was crowned queen at halftime of the Hornets’ District 5-4A game against Denton before hundreds of students and fans.

Alejandrina, who cried when her name was announced, later thanked her classmates for the opportunity to represent them.

"There are no words to explain how I'm feeling,” she said. “I just want to tell people never to give up. Keep trying and keep dreaming."

ORIGINAL REPORT STARTS HERE:

AZLE -- Alejandrina Guzman, her tiny frame wrapped in a bright pink gown, was ready for the parade to start.

While her parents fretted over the logistics of their daughter's ride, one cheerleader after another approached Alejandrina to hug her and pose for photographs.

Her father, Jesus, then lifted her from the small purple wheelchair and placed her on the back seat of the convertible, a leopard print blanket tucked underneath to raise her body. One of Alejandrina's brothers sat beside her, gripping her foot so she would not fall backward.

The car engine roared, and the homecoming queen nominee smiled as the parade snaked its way through the streets of Azle.

Alejandrina has a rare condition called diastrophic dysplasia, which affects bone development and cartilage. She is 2 feet 8 inches tall, with abnormally short arms and legs. She has a cleft palate that gives her voice a high pitch and has clubfeet that turn inward. She cannot braid her own hair or drive a car.

Doctors told her parents that she would not live one entire day. She is now 17.

"My disability is what makes me me," Alejandrina said. "This is who I am."

When she discovered this month that she was nominated for homecoming queen of Azle High School, she did not believe it.

Classmates said they were not surprised.

"Allie is one of the most popular girls in school," said Camille Grigdesby, a friend and senior.

"And it's not because of her disability. It's her entire personality. She sparkles. She just has this effect on people that's hard to describe."

Lauren Camacho, another friend and senior, added: "Allie is the strongest person I know. She knows exactly who she is."

'She shines'

Alejandrina is ranked No. 11 in a class of 370.

She is a mentor to elementary school students, a member of the "Rowdy" spirit squad, vice president of the National Honor Society and a Student Council representative.

She speaks English and Spanish and is learning French.

"The only limits in life are the limits you place on yourself," she said. "I want people to understand they can accomplish whatever they want if they are willing to do the work."

From her pink bedroom, Alejandrina created a series of video blogs detailing her struggles, discussing her disorder and urging teenagers to appreciate what they have.

"Do you try to make the best out of every day?" she asks in one video. "It's hard. Everything is hard. Life is hard."

Lisa Tadlock, the grand marshal of the homecoming parade and a recently retired teacher, recalled Alejandrina's determination to complete book reports as a student at Azle Elementary School.

Since Alejandrina could not reach the shelves in the library, teachers would offer to pull the materials she needed.

She refused.

Instead, she would look up the book's number and location and ask a classmate to reach it for her.

To present the reports, each student stood in front of the class.

But if Alejandrina did that, no one could see her. So the entire class would push desks aside and sit around her, making her the tallest student in the circle.

"She always tries harder than everyone else in the room, and she shines," Tadlock said. "No matter what obstacles present themselves, she will overcome or just figure out a way to go around."

Alejandrina's mother, Martha Guzman, acknowledges that she does not always share her daughter's enthusiasm.

"I am so proud of my Alejandrina, but sometimes I tell her to wait or be careful or ask for help," her mother said. "And she tells me, 'It's OK, Mommy. I can do it. Don't worry.'"

'Just being here

is a blessing'

At academic awards ceremonies at Azle High School, students walk across an old auditorium stage to receive their certificates.

Administrators told Alejandrina that they could recognize her while she sat in the audience.

She balked, said Sam Robinson, the principal.

The honors student arranged to wait backstage during the ceremony so she, too, could be recognized onstage.

"She is always smiling, always working hard," Robinson said.

"This school will be a different place without Allie."

Alejandrina will graduate in the spring and hopes to attend the University of Texas at Austin. She wants to study psychology and French and eventually become a lawyer, which would allow her to give a voice to the voiceless.

She dreams of learning to drive, braiding her own long hair, cooking her own meals, of leading an independent life.

But first, tonight, during Azle's football game against Denton, she will gather with her fellow homecoming queen nominees in the middle of the field, smile and wave to the crowd.

One girl will be crowned queen.

Winning, she said, doesn't really matter.

"The fact that I'm even nominated says so much about Azle High School. They can look past the outside to see what really matters," she said.

"Just being here is a blessing."

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

Twitter: @sarahbfw

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