Kiera Brinkley is your typical 16-year old girl. She's a high school junior who likes hanging out with her friends, texting on her phone and during the week, she's stuck at home hitting the books after school. What makes Kiera so extraordinary however is that she has gotten through most of her life without arms or legs. At age 2, Kiera contracted a bacterial infection called Pneumococcus where gangrene overtook her limbs and her doctors were forced to amputate them. But that's never stopped the Oregon teen from having big dreams for the future. After revealing her love of dancing to a staffer from the Dream Factory, a nonprofit organization based in her hometown that helps sick children live out their fondest wish, Kiera got the opportunity to visit the famous Juilliard School of Dance in New York City last July. Now, she's working on finishing high school in hopes of one day becoming a nurse.
You may be asking how she does it. Kiera's passion and strong will combined with her beautiful spirit allows her to use what legs and arms she has to live a full and happy life. She spoke to ESSENCE.com about why she doesn't think of herself as disabled, surprises us by revealing some of the things she can do on her own and what usually happens when people stop and stare.
ESSENCE.COM: What has your life been like growing up without the full use of arms and legs?
KIERA BRINKLEY: Life hasn't been completely easy. There are different things I've had to go through to try to make it easier, but going to school and growing up has been fun for me. I want people to know that I'm happy that I have my life and I appreciate every part of it.
ESSENCE.COM: What about dancing do you love?
BRINKLEY: I love the reactions! Not a lot of people expect me to just jump out of my wheelchair and sometimes it really surprises people. No one expects me to dance, do cartwheels and handstands. When I choreograph a dance I see myself with arms and legs and just picture the dance moves. I like showing people that I'm not just this girl sitting in a wheelchair.
ESSENCE.COM: How long have you been dreaming about dancing at Julliard?
BRINKLEY: I've wanted to go ever since I saw the movie, "Save the Last Dance." It's the biggest dance school ever and getting the opportunity to go there was just unbelievable. It's a memory that will never leave me. I was able to tour the campus, observe classes and then I danced with other students and taught them my choreography. I think they were pretty excited.
ESSENCE.COM: What are some things people would be surprised that you are able to do on your own?
BRINKLEY: I text a lot. There's a bone in my arm that I use. It's the same way I use a key board. I can type 60 words a minute. I can also get dressed on my own.
ESSENCE.COM: Have you ever considered getting prosthetic arms and legs?
BRINKLEY: I've had prosthetics before and they're a lot of fun because I love shoes and painting my toenails. Sooner or later, I'll have to get fitted again. I just recently found out I have to have surgery this December on my legs to saw down the bone because it's growing into a pencil point. I also had a prosthetic left arm but it was messing up my handwriting. I ended up having to just rewrite with my stubs. Since I want to go into nursing, I'll get another one so I have some length to my arm.
ESSENCE.COM: Why do you want to go into nursing?
BRINKLEY: I've been in the hospital so many times before. So many people have helped me and this is my way of giving back and helping others.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you ever think of yourself as having a disability?
BRINKLEY: No, it never really crosses my mind. Everyone has different problems. The things that I'm able to do now and how I portray myself never really shows that I think of myself in that way. Also, my family has never treated me that way.
ESSENCE.COM: What do you do when people stop and stare at you?
BRINKLEY: No one wants to come up and just ask me what happened and that irritates me. Sometimes I make up stories like I got bitten by a shark. [Laughs] But even though it's a long story, I really do prefer people to know the truth than be curious all the time.
ESSENCE.COM: To what do you attribute your strength and resilience?
BRINKLEY: My mom and just anyone who has never babied me. My family has always pushed me to do the best I can and live life to the fullest. Without them, I would probably just stay in my wheelchair and try to remain hidden.