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Extraordinary Girl – Neeley Heilman

Neeley Heilman, 8, hopes to be an oceanographer one day, but she could be one of America’s next great writers. The second grader loves school, and she especially loves to write stories. She also loves running, playing soccer, competing in triathlons and spending time with her mom, dad, sister Halle and brother Ben.

What makes you happy? Why?

I am happy when I see other people happy. I like to help other people, especially when they are sad or feeling down.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

I have two inspirations. My sister Halle is my first inspiration. Halle struggles with a lot of medical issues. She was born with a rare chromosome deletion and has an immune deficiency. Her hands don’t work like everyone else’s, and she has a lot of other medical issues. She is sick and in pain a lot but she always has a positive attitude and encourages others to overcome their challenges in life.

I am also inspired by Winter the Dolphin. Winter also has disabilities, like Halle, and she helps others deal with their disabilities. Winter makes people feel good about themselves and like themselves just the way they are. I want to teach others to like themselves the way they are and to stay positive regardless of their challenges.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family?

I love family game night. We all love to sit around and play Uno! We also like to play wiffle ball out front with dad and kick the soccer ball around as a family. My mom and I train together for my triathlons. We go for runs together, and all of us take bike rides together. We love to spend time together. Summer is coming, and we will spend lots of time in the pool!

What advice do you have for girls your age?

Don’t ever make fun of people! Always try to be nice to others and look to be a friend to those who need you the most. Also, it’s important to feel good about yourself! You are special.

What are your aspirations for the future?

I want to stay active in triathlons and soccer. I will always want to take care of the body God gave me. When I grow up I want to be an oceanographer and work with animals like Winter, teaching people it’s okay to be different and being different can be cool.

What is your favorite way to relax?

I relax by reading a book or going for a run.

If you could change the world in one way, what would it be?

I would make sure everybody is treated equally no matter what abilities they have!

What is your favorite experience?

My favorite experience was meeting my friend Kendra in preschool. We are still friends today even though we go to different schools!

What message do you want to share with other girls and families?

It’s OK to have a person with disabilities in your family. All families are different and special in their own way. I hope people learn to treat others as they would want to be treated. I hope each girl and family that reads this realizes what is special about them and their family and celebrate that. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Tell us about your community project.

My mom helped me start a running club at my elementary school. We are the Galloping Gators! My mom and I had talked a lot about how hard it was for me to see my parents spend so much time with my brother and sister when they were in the hospital or doing school at home. I had a hard time seeing what they go through. It is really tough and no fun but I just saw they were with mom and not me. I started wishing I was sick like them. Then last year, my mom started me in running races and triathlons so we could spend time training together and going to events. I began to realize how much I loved competing and how much I really appreciated having a healthy body. My brother and sister can’t do these things because their bodies aren’t able to right now. I realize it’s a blessing to be healthy and I wanted to share that with other kids! I want them to feel good about themselves too! The Galloping Gators meet every Wednesday. We started with only four members and now we have over 20! We do lots of running games. We learn about proper nutrition and how to take good care of our bodies. We also do a trail run at the end of each club meeting. On the other days we keep journals on all the exercise we get like running, swimming, biking or even rollerblading. It’s a lot of fun. Our running club also encourages each other to do local races with our families. Several of my teammates ran in Gasparilla and other races this year, and I just completed my first duathlon! We even bring in our medals to show our friends. It is a lot of fun!

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