With each step down the runway, 27 models proved no challenge is too great to overcome.
They arrived in Atlantic Beach on Saturday night from across the country to "redefine the runway." Some were born without an arm or leg. Others suffered illnesses that forced a limb to be amputated.
What they shared was a common determination, a will to survive and to show the world that they are just like everyone else.
At the third annual Show Your Shine Adaptive Runway Event at The Sands, the models, mostly children, were greeted with thunderous applause as they proudly walked down the runway. The event was a fundraiser for the Limb Kind Foundation, a Long Island-based nonprofit organization that supports the amputee community across the world.
Nicole Grehn, a 32-year-old who lost both her legs above the knee in 2015 to save her life from a rare genetic heart condition, served as emcee. She spoke of the strength and “true vulnerability” the models display.
“We’re in this chaos together,” she told the audience. “I hope that each and every one of you cherishes these moments as these models will.”
Alyssa Dumas of Boston carried her 13-month-old son Jayden — the youngest model — onto the stage. She then held his hand as they walked together down the runway. Jayden was born with bilateral ulnar longitudinal deficiency, a condition where a child’s wrist is in a fixed and bent position.
Sloane Weakly, 9, of Texas was the first model of the night, wearing a dress she had gotten in Paris. She lost her right leg just before her third birthday due to a rare benign tumor that had forced her to undergo several surgeries.
“She loves being with other kids that have limb differences like she does,” Sloane’s mom, Shay, said.
Robert Schulman, executive director of Limb Kind Foundation and a certified prosthetist, has spent nearly 30 years assisting people with limb loss.
A Long Island native, he founded the nonprofit in 2018. His sister, Jill Smith, an occupational therapist, created the Show Your Shine event. She said the night is about showing that “different is beautiful."
“Different is normal,” she added. “And it should be celebrated.”
The foundation brings a team of prosthetists, physical therapists and amputee mentors to underserved countries across the world to provide amputee children with life-changing prostheses.
In one week, the team of 15 to 20 people works on-site in an assembly line style.
“It’s a crazy, amazing, emotional week,” Schulman said.
The team has traveled to Haiti, Kenya, Ethiopia and the Philippines. In March, they will visit Kenya where at least 50 kids are already lined up to receive protheses. In July, they will go to Sri Lanka for the first time.
Schulman recalled traveling to Haiti in 2010 after the country was devastated by an earthquake. He made about seven or eight prostheses for children. He returned annually to Haiti and said he knew if he had a team with him, he could accomplish so much more.
From there, the Limb Kind Foundation was born.
Mr. Schulman said underdeveloped countries often lack adequate health care, particularly when it comes prosthetic care. And the cost of a prosthesis far exceeds what many families can afford.
“There’s such a great need around the world,” he said.
In the United States, most children who need prostheses typically have a path to receive one, either through insurance or other charitable organizations that support amputees, Schulman said. It’s common for children to have a second prostheses that can be used during high-impact sports, for example.
The foundation also works to assist children domestically through the Limb Kind Youth Group and the Limb Kind Prosthetic Center that recently opened in Ozone Park. The youth group provides children with limb loss a chance to bond and share their unique experiences with one another. Smith is the youth group director as well as the special events director for the foundation.
Stasia Scocca, 43, of Mount Sinai was one of the handful of adults to participate in the runway show. She was joined by her 8-year-old daughter, Sadie McGill, who came out to "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."
Scocca and her daughter were both born with Holt-Oram Syndrome, also known as heart-hand syndrome.
"She's changed me a lot, made me grow as a person and become more comfortable with myself," Scocca said.