First-Grader Born Without Hands Wins Penmanship Award

Courtesy Mary Ellen Clark

Annie Clark, a 7-year-old born without hands but with a can-do spirit, has won a national award for penmanship.

The first grader at Wilson Christian Academy in the Pittsburgh-area was awarded the Nicholas Maxim Special Award for Excellent Penmanship at a surprise assembly at her school Wednesday, where she was presented with a trophy and $1,000 prize from Zaner-Bloser, the textbook publishing company that sponsors the contest.

After accepting the award, Annie demonstrated for the audience how she writes, gripping the pencil steadily between her forearms to perfect the letters and capitalization.

"She is a studious and contentious student who really strives for perfection," her teacher Laura Erb said. "She is very determined to get it right. When she does any kind of writing, she wants to make sure that it's clear and concise and she really takes pride in her work."

Erb said Annie sometimes has to stand up to give herself leverage over the lined paper, but always keeps up in the classroom with her peers. In fact, she tutors other students.

"We don't consider her a special ed [student], she's just Annie," Erb said. "She picks up on things very quickly. She keeps pace with the classroom and the curriculum."

Despite her disability, Annie can use scissors and glue in class, Erb said, and has learned how to dress herself, feed herself, swim and ride a bike. She also excels at math.

"This has been a very natural thing for her. She just did it, she wrote just like this. She didn't have therapy," Erb explained.

Now in its 21st year, the Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Contest is an annual event for grade school students that promotes penmanship. This year, the contest included a new category for students with disabilities after Nicholas Maxim, a fifth grader from Maine who was born without hands or lower arms, applied to the general contest last year and impressed judges with his penmanship skills.

Students can submit a manuscript in print or cursive to enter. Annie won the manuscript contest. On her entry form for Grades 1-2, she wrote the required sentence: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."

Courtesy Zaner-Bloser

In response to the question, "What do you like handwriting?" she carefully dotted the "i" and wrote: "Handwriting is fun and special!"

More than 2.5 million students have participated in the contest over the years, according to company estimates.

Annie's parents, Tom and Mary Ellen Clark, have three biological children and six adopted children from China, including Annie, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Annie came to Western Pennsylvania at age 2.

"She's kind and sweet and loving and has added so much to our family," her mother Mary Ellen Clark said. "We just all adore her, and we can't imagine life without her."

Described as shy, Annie was surprised to learn at the assembly that she had won the award since her mom was asked not to tell her beforehand.

"She went up to receive the trophy and I could tell she was overwhelmed, but she was poised," Mary Ellen Clark said. "Then I would say it started to sink in and I saw her smile and I could tell she was enjoying the moment."

"She was shocked," Annie's sister Amy, 25, said. "When it happened, her eyes were so big."

Annie's siblings, classmates, teachers and family couldn't be happier for her. The determined seven-year-old is stopping here. She has big dreams of becoming an author, according to her teacher.

"This has given her a real sense of confidence," he mother, Mary Ellen Clark said. "She is just proud to be her and as a parent, I'm just thrilled with that."