I was 11 years old when I discovered my first bald spot. I immediately knew it was Alopecia Areata because I was first diagnosed at the age of five. Within a couple of months, I had lost about 75% of my hair. I remember coming home from a summer camp and telling my parents that I needed a wig because it was too much for me. Eight months after finding my first bald spot, I was being cast for a Locks of Love wig with friends and family standing around. That was when it started; I started collecting ponytails to donate to Locks of Love. Some would go to my own wigs, while others would just be donated to help other kids in my same situation. It was slow at first; a friend would cut their hair or find a ponytail that they had cut a while back but had forgotten to send it in. Eventually, those friends told their friends, who told their friends, and so on. I started getting ponytails in the mail from all over the US and Canada, from men and women of all ages. Sometimes the ponytails would come with a letter telling me how much I had inspired them. It was the coolest and weirdest feeling in the world. People were being inspired by me. Now that was something I had never expected to happen. The ponytails started accumulating, and before I knew it, I had collected well over 100 ponytails. I started up a challenge and I challenged my friends, family, and pretty much anyone who had heard of my story to start collecting hair. I wanted to collect 200 ponytails in a year and a half. At this time I had been collecting hair for 3 ½ years and had barely collected 200 ponytails. Word spread around about my challenge, and people were determined to help me reach our goal. A reporter from Washington D.C. even heard about me and interviewed me about my challenge. That’s when my mom got an email inviting us to the 5th Annual Locks of Love Summer Camp. I was so excited to meet other girls like me. I had never met someone with Alopecia before and never had anyone to talk to who could relate. At this point our challenge had been going on for about 4-5 months and we had collected exactly 100 ponytails, halfway to our goal, and we weren’t even halfway to the deadline. My mom had an idea to move up the deadline so that we could collect these 200 ponytails by the time we went to the camp and hand deliver them. I was really nervous about it… The camp was only 2 months away, and I didn’t think we could collect 100 more ponytails in 2 months; we had never collected ponytails that fast. Little did I know that I had just opened the flood gates. Exactly one week from when we moved up the deadline we had collected over 100 MORE ponytails, meaning we had completely surpassed our goal. We just kept collecting them as people sent them in; in one day a guy dropped off 166 ponytails. I was completely amazed at how people were responding to our challenge. As we boarded the plane to go the Locks of Love camp, we had a box of over 500 ponytails with us. At the camp, I had the opportunity to make lifelong friendships that I will forever cherish. It was the best weekend of my life, and I can’t imagine anything topping it. On the final night of camp, we had a farewell dinner, and I presented all of the ponytails that my mom and I had hauled across the country. I still remember the looks on everyone’s faces; nobody expected it. I started pulling out bag after bag that was full of hair, and I never really realized how much hair we had until I was sitting there pulling out all of these bags.
Flash forward two and a half years later – I am a senior in high school who is already tired of the question, “What are you going to do after high school?” While my hopes and plans for the future change, one thing has stayed the same. Since the Locks of Love camp, I have collected nearly 500 more ponytails, bringing my total to 987, and I continue to share my story. This past summer, it really hit me how many lives I have had the opportunity to touch through this; a lady approached me at the park saying that she recognized me and had donated hair, another lady at the grocery store called me a “local celebrity,” and a friend of mine shared my story with Richard Sherman (a Seattle Seahawk), who was touched by my story and invited me to his annual charity softball tournament. I have learned that you can’t control what happens to you in your life; you can only control how you handle it. So when people ask me what my plans for the future are, I will say that, “I will be using my story to touch as many lives as possible. Wherever that sends me, I’m fine with it. I just want to help people and remind them that true beauty isn’t defined by hair, weight, or skin; it’s kindness that gives you a beautiful smile, faith that gives you a sparkling eye, and love that gives you a genuine glow.”