April 20, 2012 10:52 PM

Girl without hands penmanship champion

annie clark.jpg
First-grader without hands wins penmanship award

April 19, 2012 12:18 pm
Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

By all accounts, Annie Clark, 7, a first-grader at Wilson Christian Academy in West Mifflin, is a hard-working and determined student who makes a point of learning from her mistakes and strives for perfection in her work.

So on the surface, it should come as no surprise that she won a national handwriting award from the Zaner-Bloser language arts and reading company. That is, of course, if you didn't know that she was born with no hands.

On Wednesday, Annie received one of two national handwriting awards the Zaner-Bloser firm offered for the first time this year to disabled students. The other went to a student in Eastlake, Ohio, who has a visual impairment.

Along with the Nicholas Maxim Special Award for Excellent Penmanship, Annie got a trophy nearly half her height and $1,000. She was awarded the prizes during a surprise assembly at her school.

When the purpose of the assembly was announced and Annie's name was called, she appeared stunned and overwhelmed as she quietly made her way to the front to accept her trophy and a bouquet of flowers, dressed in a ruffled white skirt and bright golden blouse. Initially she left the assembly with her classmates because she didn't want to miss math class.

But she returned a few minutes later to talk with reporters and demonstrate how she writes with a pencil wedged between her arms.

Her parents, Tom and Mary Ellen Clark, said it's the same method Annie uses to feed and dress herself, cut with scissors and even paint her toenails.

"Annie has always been very, very determined, very self-sufficient in dressing herself and feeding herself," Mr. Clark said. "She can ride a bike. She swims. She is just determined that there's nothing she can't do."

Her father said she also types on a keyboard and uses an iPod Touch with no difficulties.

In an era where some schools are abandoning handwriting programs in lieu of keyboarding and other modes of technological communication, Wilson Christian Academy puts special emphasis on penmanship and good handwriting, school officials said.

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