Rachel Blythe strikes a pose at her home in Courtland. Born prematurely and diagnosed with cebral palsy, she has been particiapting in natural pageants since 2012. The "natural" pageants are based on personality, which Rachel has plenty of. -- LUCY WALLACE/TIDEWATER NEWS
Rachel Blythe strikes a pose at her home in Courtland. Born prematurely and diagnosed with cebral palsy, she has been particiapting in natural pageants since 2012. The "natural" pageants are based on personality, which Rachel has plenty of. -- LUCY WALLACE/TIDEWATER NEWS

Archived Story

Courtland child defies odds to attend state pageant

Published 11:13am Monday, April 22, 2013
Rachel wore a "leprechaun" themed outfit in the third pageant she participated in. Assisted by her Mother, Rachel won "duchess" in her division. -- SUBMITTED
Rachel wore a “leprechaun” themed outfit in the third pageant she participated in. Assisted by her Mother, Rachel won “duchess” in her division. — SUBMITTED

COURTLAND—Rachel Blythe is not like other kids her age, but that doesn’t stop her from participating in all aspects of life.

Born with Cerebral Palsy, seven-year-old Rachel can’t walk without assistance and her speech is hard to understand, but she radiates joy and delight in everything she does.

The daughter of Kim and Dwayne Blythe of Courtland, Rachel has been the local March of Dimes ambassador the past six years. She is also a member of Daisy Girl Scout Troop 1707. But the most amazing thing Rachel does is participate in pageants.

She was recently accepted as a state finalist for the National American Miss Pageant to be held this summer in Reston, Va. She will participate in the Junior Pre-teen age group (ages 7-9).

Kim Blythe explained, “She does not walk – the CP affects her rights side. She is not able to do sports. I was trying to think of something she could do and a friend told me about natural pageants – where they judge you on yourself.”

Someone in the community nominated Rachel for the National American Miss pageant and Kim does not know who did.

They’ve already gone through an interview process and two days later got a phone call that Rachel was accepted to go to the state level.

The “natural” pageants Rachel has competed in before are based on personality. She participated in two in 2012 and one in March of this year.

The amazing thing though to Kim is that “all the other children are normal, not disabled in any way.”

In order to “compete” in these pageants, sponsors are necessary and Kim is asking the community and local businesses to help sponsor Rachel. And if Rachel wins in July, she will get to compete in the nationals held in Hollywood, California.

Kim recalls the first pageant Rachel participated in. “I put her in a normal church dress and a cowgirl costume for the rodeo theme. She got up there (I escorted her) and she let go of my hand, put her hand on her hips like she’d watched the other girls do and she tilted her cowgirl hat to the judges – I didn’t coach her on anything.”

As March of Dimes ambassador for Southampton County, Rachel always kicks off the March of Dimes March. This year, the march is set for Sunday, May 19 at Barrett’s Landing in Franklin. Registration starts at 1 p.m. and the walk begins at 2 p.m.

At the annual campaign kick-off held at Southampton Memorial Hospital in March, Kim gave some background about Rachel’s journey.

Born three and a half months early on November 20, 2005, Rachel weighed only two pounds, 10 ounces. When she was two weeks old she developed a bacterial infection and was given a 20 percent chance of survival. Chances of brain damage were 80 percent.

At 28 months old, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and Kim says her daughter reaches a new milestone about every six months.

Now Rachel is a thriving first grade student at Riverdale Elementary. She said she likes school, adding, “I want to be a teacher to help others like me.” Her favorite activity at school is reading.

She does Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy twice a week during school hours. Also, she has therapy at Tidewater Physical Therapy three days a week and therapeutic horseback riding once a week during the spring.

Another activity she loves is participating in race events. Kim said Rachel is involved in Team Hoyt Racing in Virginia Beach.  “She is teamed with one of her first therapists from Norfolk General when she was born.  It is pretty neat to watch.  She has only been in five races so far, but there will be many more to come.  Just to give you an idea of what type of team this is—the volunteers on the team push disabled individuals in a race of 5K, one-mile, etc.  It gives the ones that can’t walk, the opportunity to be part of a team.  Each race is for a particular charity event.”

In her short seven years, Rachel has had three eye surgeries, two foot surgeries, one leg surgery and major hip surgery in November of last year. She sees doctors and nurses with the Greenville, S.C. Shriners Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Kings Daughters in Norfolk.

Kim said three years ago at the March of Dimes walk, Rachel took nine steps by herself. Most of the time she rides in a stroller at those events. At home she uses a walker or holds on to furniture and at school uses AFO leg braces, which help strengthen her legs.

More surgeries are planned in the future but for now Kim and Dwayne keep Rachel active in Girl Scouts, attending Boy Scouts with her brother, nine-year-old Kendal, and church.

This year’s local March of Dimes Chairman, Jim Council said the stated goal is $25,000 but he has a personal goal of $30,000. He has known Rachel and her family for quite awhile and said, “Rachel is just a doll – and the progress she is making is noteworthy and encouraging.”

He said there are other children in the community with similar disabilities and that he agreed to be the chair because it is “all about the kids.”

“Seeing the wonderful success she and others have made, helped me decide to do it (chair the events). I have healthy children and grandchildren – I am blessed. I hope the community will think about that and share their resources,” Council stressed.

Kim Blythe said March of Dimes provides research and equipment for premature babies to give them a fighting chance. She is a customer service representative with International Paper in a Suffolk office and her husband also works in Suffolk at Smuckers, doing mechanical maintenance. The couple lives in Courtland and Dwayne also has a 19 year-old daughter, Megan Blythe.

Rachel enjoys music and singing, playing with her dogs and just being a regular kid. Participating in pageants helps make her a regular kid, said her Mother. And when asked why she likes being in pageants Rachel said it all, “to show them dreams can come true.”

In conclusion, Kim said, “She’s accomplished so many things. She’s smart as a whip – she just can’t get it across to you. But she couldn’t talk two years ago and now she’s talking all the time.”

Anyone interested in helping sponsor Rachel at the National American Miss Junior Pre-Teem pageant, can contact Kim at 647-8845 or via email at kim.blythe@ipaper.com. Gifts are tax deductible.

The community is also encouraged to get involved in the March of Dimes campaign. Many fundraisers are being held throughout the area, and will culminate with the March of Dimes Walk May 19.

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