No, Lucy, you aren't dreaming
Pageant packs Carroll High School auditorium Saturday
July 22, 2013
Alexis McCaughey, 15, (left) embraces Lisa Daringer, a 2013 Carroll High School graduate who is dressed like Cinderella as part of her work with girls with special needs at the Dreams Made True pageant Saturday. McCaughey, a member of the first septuplets born in recorded history in 1997, earned the 2013 Miss Teen Dreams Made True award on the Carroll stage. For her part, Daringer plans to attend the University of Northern Iowa in the fall.
Six-year-old Lucy Diers beamed and waved to the audience.
She'd just earned the People's Choice Award in the fourth annual Dreams Made True pageant Saturday in Carroll. The more than 300 people in attendance filled her vote bucket with the most dollars, fives, tens and twenties, fundraising for the powerfully empowering event for girls and young women with special needs.
It wasn't that long ago that nobody would have listened to Diers had she yelled all day. People in her native Sierre Leone, a west Africa nation known for slave-trading and exploitative diamond-mine work, banished Diers because of her mild cerebral palsy.
"They found her on a beach when she was 2," said her father, Doug Diers of Pella, a Kuemper Catholic High School alum. "She was considered cursed" because of her affliction.
In fact, at one African orphanage, the staff forced Lucy to stand in a corner. They threw food at her.
Diers and his wife, Jen (Malm), also a 1989 Kuemper graduate, connected with Lucy through a friend involved in African adoptions. The Dierses brought Lucy to the United States on medical visa in 2010. Four months ago, the adoption became official. Lucy is a Diers, living in Pella with her family.
Doug Diers says she's a miracle.
"When we first found out about her we didn't even know she'd be able to walk," Diers said.
But here was Lucy, center stage. The audience at the Carroll High School gymnasium stood. They cheered. For Lucy.
It was a moment in a parade of moments in Dreams Made True, an event designed to shatter stereotypes about people who walk and talk differently than the majority of the population, but love and laugh and cry and live fully.
"It was a lot of fun," said Brady Gottsch, 18, one of four young men who helped guide the girls across the stage. "I was glad to see all those girls have a good time, have a smile on their face."
Twenty-nine contestants, ranging in age from 5 to 25, and coming from across Iowa, participated in the pageant, founded and organized by David and Dayna Teske of Carroll.
"There's no handbook that tells you how to raise a daughter with a disability," David Teske said.
The Teskes' daughter, Daleney, the winner of the regional 2008 Miss You Can Do It pageant, is featured extensively in a Home Box Office movie that premiered just weeks ago premium cable-and-satellite network. She's there at the beginning of the film, "Miss You Can Do It," smiling through the challenges of the cerebral palsy that affects her legs and arms.
On Saturday, Daleney presented the Dreams Made True award to one of her inspirations, 30-year-old Jen Loehr of Carroll, a graduate of the prestigious University of Missouri School of Journalism who works as a strategic consultant for Line of Sight Group, a St. Paul. Minn., marketing company. Loehr, a Carroll High School alum, was born with spastic cerebral palsy.
"I'm glad you can help me be what I want to be," Daleney said in presenting the award.
Loehr said she follows her passions, writing and sports.
"I've never set out to be anybody's inspiration," Loehr said. "I've just set out to do what I want to do."
At Missouri, Loehr was heavily involved in the sports program's public relations.
The Carroll pageant attracted one Iowa celebrity family - the McCaugheys of Carlisle. Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey in 1997 became the parents of the first septuplets in history.
Alexis, 15, the second-born of the seven children, has cerebral palsy, which primarily affects her physically, said her father.
She earned the 2013 Teen Miss Dreams Made True award in Carroll.
"It feels really awesome," Alexis said. "I love just interacting with all the girls because they're really nice."
Alexis said she plans to be a grade-school special-eduction teacher.
"It's a neat local event just for girls with special needs to help them to feel good about themselves, just to give them that extra boost they need," Kenny McCaughey said. "Despite their disabilities, they still have a chance to really shine."
The McCaugheys have received international media attention through the years, appearing with Oprah Winfrey and major NBC programs.
"It's been so quiet," Kenny McCaughey said. "We haven't heard anything from NBC, any of them. That's all right. It's been a long time."
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