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"I've got a secret!".

Think you know what a scientist looks like? How about someone in the military? What about someone with a disability? Well, each of these girls has a secret that has changed her life...and inspired her to reach beyond stereotypes by which others might judge her. Before you flip this page, think carefully about who's who...and who you think YOU are.

Quick! Picture a cheerleader. Is she blonde with blue eyes and perfect, perky pom-poms (a la 4 Kirsten Dunst)? You're probably not alone if that's the first image that pops into your head. While none of us like to think we're speedy stereotypers, most of us tend to have mental images of what people with certain specific interests or issues are supposed to look like. We found six girls who've pushed through stereotype barriers to prove that they don't have to conform to people's preconceived notions of them. They've all had to get past some people's initial reactions to their situations and follow their hearts to happiness. In the process, they've discovered things about themselves they might never have thought possible.

As you read their personal stories, think about what stereotypes are holding YOU back. For instance, instead of thinking, "Oh, I could never play basketball because I'm not tall," come up with reasons you CAN do something. The minute you stop listening to your own self-doubt, you'll be able to open up a whole new world of possibilities for yourself.


Katie Prevas, 17

I was born with epiphyseal dysplasia, a disease that causes your joints to overgrow and your bones to become immobile. Fortunately, the disease only affects my left side--hip, knee and ankle. I've had numerous surgeries, including three on my ankle, something called a triple fusion, three knee surgeries, a full heel cord stretch and two recent operations on my toes.

The summer after fifth grade, I was also diagnosed with scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine, and had to have back surgery. The doctors placed a rod along my spine, which corrected my 42-degree curve, taking it down to a two-degree curve. I spent a full a week in the hospital and another six weeks in a back brace, but that was one of my most successful operations. You can't even notice any curve now!

At the moment, I need a full hip replacement. Yeah, that's the same surgery typically reserved for 80-year-old grandmas. My doctors and I hope it can wait until scientists develop a more advanced method of doing hip replacement surgery If I were to get the operation now, my recovery would take months, and my new hip would only be good for about 20 years. I'd need to get a new hip three or four more times during my life! So I'm pretty much holding off until my hip gives out entirely.

But it's not so bad. Sure, I can't wear really high heels because there's a certain point at which my heel just can't bend properly. My right leg is a little longer than my left, because the left one had been in a cast for so long. I used to wear an orthopedic insert in my shoe to even my legs out, but then I thought, "Well, who cares if I limp?" I can't sit cross-legged. Not that the way you sit makes you cool, but everybody does it. During school assemblies, everyone sits cross-legged on the floor, and I have to do a half-leg-bent/ half-straight-out kind of thing.

Though I walk with a limp, people are cool about not making a big deal out of my disability. Before I had my surgery to fix my spine, this girl called me "scolio girl." And I thought, "Who is she?"

A lot of boys, especially my brothers, say, "Let me help you. Let me do that," and I'm like, "No, I can do it." I hate it when people don't let me do things for myself. Usually it's something silly, and I'm perfectly capable on my own. Even though I can't do some stuff I'd like to do--like ice skate, play contact sports, run without a little extra hop in my step--I never think of myself as handicapped. I just kind of go with the flow. I never expect pity. Yeah, I've been through a lot, but that's life.

My condition has made me stronger and more independent. I could spend my whole life letting people do everything for me. I could have someone put on my shoes or carry my stuff, or I could get out of gym forever! But it's so much better being able to do things myself.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that there are things I can't do--but still plenty I can do. I've figured out what my limits are and learned not to care about what other people expect my limits to be. I surprise a lot of people, even myself sometimes. The expectations people put on you really shouldn't matter--you need to set your own goals.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm unstoppable and definitely unbreakable. And once I put my mind to something, you'd better watch out!


LeNaya Crandall, 17

For the last 10 years, I've been training to become a professional opera singer. I go to Baltimore School for the Arts, one of the top high schools in the country for vocal arts. But being an opera singer isn't my secret--many people are stunned to learn I lived on my own when I was 15.

When I was in sixth grade, my mom left my dad. At the time, she had run up huge bills. And even though the debts were incurred by my mom, my dad was responsible for them and had to declare bankruptcy because of it.

My dad had worked as a teacher for 30 years and was just beginning to enjoy a nice retirement. But because of our financial situation, he had to take a job with a photography company. They paid him to travel around to military bases to take family portraits. My dad had to go out of town all the time on business just so we would have enough money to pay off my mom's debts and afford a home close to my school.

I knew how hard it was on him, and I hated being alone so much. That's when my friend Daneka asked me if I wanted to move in with her. Daneka was 18 and had just gotten her first apartment. So since my dad had places to stay when he was on his business trips, he gave up our house and agreed to help me pay my share of the rent at Daneka's.

Leaving my dad at 15 was tough, and it took awhile for him to feel comfortable with the idea of me living on my own at such a young age. But he was happy that I was no longer staying home by myself, feeling lonely isolated from other kids. Despite the fact that my dad and I were living in separate homes, my dad was and still is very much a part of my life--and he always will be.

In the beginning, people were worried about me. The teachers at school always asked if I needed anything, if everything was OK. They were always checking up on me, but I didn't feel like a little girl who couldn't do it on her own. In a sense, their prodding was kind of annoying. But I understood that they just cared about me and wanted to make sure I was all right.

You might think our apartment was total party central but, actually, it was the exact opposite. I studied all the time. I never went out, which is surprising because we lived right downtown. But I was too busy studying, practicing and listening to music. I was on the honor roll, and I was performing well, singing solos in school performances. I even worked at Wet Seal to make money.

I lived with Daneka my entire junior year. But this past September, my best friend Ryan's mom and dad asked me if I'd like to come live with them. Even though I can't play my music as loud, it's been great living at their house.

I'm graduating from Baltimore School for the Arts this June. Next year, I hope to go to the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore and then, eventually, go to graduate school at Berkley College of Music in Boston.

Before I lived on my own, I had zero self-confidence. But taking care of myself made me realize I can accomplish anything as long as I focus hard enough. Some people think it's this huge, tremendous God-given gift that I survived on my own, but I just feel it was a necessity, something I had to do. Almost everybody in the world has some kind of problem-and that was just mine.


Sarah Price, 17

When I told my friends I had applied to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., they were surprised. "But you're so girly!" they said. Well, that's true--I like hair, makeup, fashion, shopping and all that kind of stuff. I'm also not the loud, bossy type some people might think of when they imagine a Navy officer. I'm more the quiet type.

Before I visited the Naval Academy, I was afraid I might not fit in. But during my visit, I stayed with a bunch of freshman girls who seemed a lot like, me, pretty cool and normal.

No doubt, the Naval Academy isn't for everyone. For starts, the Academy is really academically challenging, one of the top schools in the country. And it's socially challenging, too. As freshmen, or plebes as we are called, we can only go out on weekend nights and have to be back by 10 p.m. Sunday is the only day we have for ourselves. And plebes can only date other plebes.

Getting in is tough. Besides the usual college application, I filled out a personal interest survey. They ask questions like, "Would you rather grow a garden or paint a picture?" Based on our answers, they see how well we match up with successful naval officers, which plays a part in admissions. Kind of interesting.

And then there's a physical fitness test--how many push-ups you can do in two minutes, how fast you can run a sprint, how far you can throw a basketball from a kneeling position. The guys do chin-ups, and the girls do a flexed arm hang, which is difficult. They told me the reason they picked the flexed arm hang test is because if you fall off a building and you're clinging to the edge, that's how you would hold on!

To attend the Naval Academy, I also had to be nominated by two U.S. senators and one member of the house of representatives. There are separate interviews, separate essays and a separate application process for each member of Congress, so it's actually like doing four college applications!

All the hard work was worth it. The best thing about going into the Navy is the honor of defending the United States--that's our job and it's the greatest thing we can do for our country. I always wanted to be part of the military, but Sept. 11 strengthened my desire to serve. And the discipline and the order really appeal to me--the military instills character. One day, I hope to be a fighter pilot. If that doesn't work out, I'd really also like to serve on an aircraft carrier, which still has that flight aspect.

A lot of my friends think it's really cool that I'm attending the Naval Academy. Other people are like, "That's crazy. These are your college years. You should have fun." My friend said to me the other day, "You're not going to be out of school until you're 27." It's true. I have to go into the Navy for at least five years after I graduate because that pays for my education. But being in the Navy is being part of something bigger.

Women have not always been treated well in the military. That's definitely something I took into consideration. Soon, I graduate from Roland Park Country School, an all-girls high school. Next year, I'll be living in a male-dominated environment. Some of the current plebes warned me that you have to watch out for the guys with big egos who think women shouldn't be there, but not everyone is like that. I'm a really independent person, so I'll deal with those challenges as they come.

I'm really excited but nervous at the same time. I think I know what to expect but, in reality, I don't have any idea what it will actually be like. Entering the Naval Academy is a new step, different from anything else I've ever done.


Ophelia Venturelli, 17

This past March, I was named a finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search for doing specialized research on cataracts, the world's leading cause of blindness.

For the past year, I've also been a Howard Hughes Medical School intern which means, as well as going to high school, I do research 25 hours a week at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md. My research focuses on how, when women go through menopause and stop getting their periods, there's a huge increase in the incidence of cataracts. I figured it definitely has something to do with a sudden drop in the hormone estrogen. I did experiments and research, and conferred with other scientists to make some real breakthroughs I hope will really change things for millions of women.

I became interested in science when I was younger and living in Colorado. I was very much into nature. I'd go out in my backyard and observe animals, check out rocks, exploring and questioning why things are the way they are. I was always very curious. That curiosity slowly evolved into my passion for molecular biology--the study of how cells operate.

I don't consider myself brilliant. I think my motivation just makes me determined to accomplish my goals. What I do definitely takes hard work and dedication. I have to be a self-directed learner, looking beyond the textbook. This fall, I'm headed to Stanford University in California. I want to get an M.D. in oncology and a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry.

I was really surprised when I went to Washington, D.C., for the Intel Conference to meet my fellow finalists. Everyone was so down-to-earth, so friendly, so normal. They talked about research--they're passionate about it just like I am--but they're interested in other things, too. I know everyone assumes girls who are into science must be huge geeks, but we're not. I have friends, go out and find time to do cool stuff--same as everybody. And I love riding horses. I work with disabled children in a therapeutic horseback-riding program.

People wonder why I'm so passionate about research. One of my friends said, "Ophelia, why do you like something that everyone else hates?" But science is so incredibly fascinating to me--just being able to discover something new and contribute to the world.


Rachel Ripken, 13

When Rachel was horn in 1989, her father Cal Ripken Jr. was merely a very talented baseball player who hadn't missed a game in nearly eight years. But in 1995, Ripken surpassed the immortal Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 straight games, a mark once considered "unbreakable." Ripken's record of 2,632 consecutive games--all of them in the uniform of his hometown Baltimore Orioles-- elevated him from a famous athlete to a national icon.

Despite what some people think, I don't live in a huge mansion or have tons of servants. My house is a little bigger than most of my friends', but that's because there's a gym and the house is on a lot of land out in the country. I don't have a limo or driver! And, I don't have a personal maid--I clean my own room and do chores to earn allowance. The last rumor I heard was that my family is moving to Mexico and that Will Smith is buying our house. Not true.

When people first meet me and don't know who I am, they treat me like anyone else. Then the minute they hear my last name, it's kind of like, "Oh..."

When I was in preschool, kids were like, "Can you get your dad to sign this?" But then, after awhile, they just kind of realized I'm only Rachel, a kid just like them. True, some people still come up to me and want to be my friend because of who my dad is. Some kids want to come over just so they can say they've been to cal Ripken's house. It's kind of frustrating. But I'm glad I have friends who like me for who I am and not who my dad is. I know some girls are quick to dump a friend over silly stuff, but when you're in my situation, you do appreciate your real friends a lot more.

Sometimes people judge me, and that makes it kind of hard. People rarely say, "Hi, how are you?" to me. They just know I'm Cal Ripken's daughter. Sometimes, I'll be talking to someone and my dad will walk in, and the person will just totally interrupt me and blow me off to talk to him.

During my last dance recital, my dad walked into the auditorium, and everyone stopped looking at my performance to watch him take his seat. That can get kind of bothersome. But the funniest part? I'm not really a big fan of baseball. I don't really like it. Everyone thinks I must play softball, but I've never gotten into softball or baseball.

And things aren't always easy for famous people like my dad. Like, if we're out to dinner at a restaurant, people will come up and ask for autographs. I mean, they're really nice about it, though, like, "I don't want to bother you or anything." Or if we're at a concert, people freak out and yell, "Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. Here he comes!" I kind of understand why celebrities sometimes don't want to be bugged.

I do know that I'm really privileged in some ways. I get to go places because I travel with my dad sometimes. The best was when I was in a Coke commercial with my dad--that was fun. But the bottom line is that I'm just an ordinary girl who gets to do extraordinary things every once in a while.


Jacqueline Drakeford, 17

Believe it or not, I had never entered a beauty pageant in my life before I competed for Miss Teen USA 2001, District of Columbia. I had a cousin who was Miss Teen USA, District of Columbia, in 1997, and she told me they needed more girls to compete. So, on a lark, I entered. And I won!

My friends were pretty surprised when I told them I was entering the Miss Teen pageant. They said, "You're so not the beauty contestant type." And they are right to some extent--I'm not an exercise buff, I don't starve myself, and I don't spend hours primping in front of the mirror. Plus, I'm pretty serious about school.

After winning the local pageant, I took part in the national Miss Teen USA pageant, which was quite an experience. All of the contestants met at the airport in Houston, and I was like, "Wow, everybody is so pretty." I knew my strongest asset was my interview, and I know I kicked butt during that portion of the competition. I didn't make it to the finals, but I know I did my best and I wouldn't change a thing.

When I was named Miss Teen USA, District of Columbia, people at my school didn't quite know what to make of it. I was too smart to be called an airhead. I mean, how many beauty queens do you know who get a perfect score on the National Latin Exam? I did. Only a couple girls in the country manage that feat. Sometimes, I think people don't really know how to perceive me, but I hope they just see the fun, outgoing person I am.

This fall, I am attending Spelman College in Atlanta. I plan on majoring in engineering--they have a great program in conjunction with Georgia Tech. After that, I hope to go on to law school.

I want to head a law firm specializing in aeronautical law. I love space and aviation! Ever since I went to Space Camp in Florida, I've wanted to do something in the aerospace industry and being an aeronautical lawyer seems cool.
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Title Annotation:teens overcome personal and social barriers
Author:Bokram, Karen
Publication:Girls' Life
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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