Purdue twirler Stacy Scheibelhut’s smile makes her a winner
With a bright twinkle in her eye, and a personality colored by charm and confidence, Purdue University twirler Stacy Scheibelhut loves goals. And when she sets one there’s no stopping her.
This June the 19-year-old athletic training major from Auburn, Ind., is among the youngest of the 22 contestants competing for the title of Miss Indiana in the Miss America pageant. Judges at the famous beauty/scholarship pageant will most likely notice that Stacy’s smile is a little off kilter. But the reason it’s that way may well be the reason Stacy’s enjoyed success all her life.
When she was just three, Stacy first started displaying symptoms of Bell’s palsy, a viral condition that affects the nerves in the face and causes facial paralysis. Usually, Bell’s palsy doesn’t surface until individuals are in their 30s or 40s, and may last for a few years and disappear.
But for Stacy, the fact that her smile has a bit of a tilt, that she can only raise one eyebrow and has trouble winking has been part of who she is all her life. As often happens to kids who are in any way different, Stacy endured unpleasant jokes and hurtful nicknames in middle school and remembers crying herself to sleep.
Through it all her parents didn’t try to shelter her or subtly steer her away from pursuits that would put her in the public eye. “They never said ‘You can’t do this. If it’s what you want to do, do it.’ They helped me a lot,” Stacy recalls.
“When I was six I saw a parade where there was twirling and I told my mom I wanted to do that.” And she did - taking lessons, joining a competition group called the Sapphire Stars, competing individually and joining DeKalb High School’s color guard.
Twirling was one of the first things that gave her a sense of being someone special. By the time Alisha Kuckartz, former Purdue Golden Girl and advisor for Purdue’s twirlers, met her, Stacy possessed a tenacious passion for life and a healthy self-concept. “When we were conducting interviews no one mentioned the fact she had Bell’s palsy, but she brought it out and said ‘This is a part of me. If anything it’s helped me to really strive to be the best in anything I do.’ ”
Kuckartz, who’s been around twirlers and performers her whole life, considers Stacy’s attitude special. “Usually, from what I’ve seen, if people have something physically different they’re kind of on the defensive. She’s not at all. Stacy’s really confident. If she sees something she’s kind of interested in, she just goes after it.”
Stacy’s twirling talent helped her win a scholarship and the title of Miss Northeast (Indiana) in April and she’ll put it on stage again in June at the Miss Indiana pageant in Terre Haute.
Although she’s been twirling for more than a dozen years, Stacy still finds it difficult to pinpoint just exactly what it is that makes her love it. “It’s probably the difficulty and the accomplishment of reaching a certain level,” she says.
“I love it so much I can’t describe it.”
In the fall of 2001, Stacy started the fall of her freshman year as an alternate on the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band’s twirling line. “Instead of giving up and going to the sidelines, she worked super hard. She’s always tried to improve herself even when things were a little rough because the line was doing tricks that were difficult for her,” says Kuckartz.
Stacy’s perseverance helped her master those tricks, learn even harder ones and banish her “alternate” standing. Being on the field at Ross-Ade Stadium wasn’t something she was going to pass up. “It’s really amazing. How the twirlers run through the whole band (as it enters Ross-Ade) is scary but exciting, and at the same time it’s really kind of cool!”
Always interested in trying something new, Stacy said yes easily to pageant competition when her best friend Lyndsey Johnson suggested they do it to win scholarship funds. Competing in a local pageant leading to Indiana State Fair Queen, “I got the role model award and that meant a lot to me. It (the pageant) was a new experience and I loved it,” she says.
This year they entered the Miss Northeast Pageant. After Lyndsey got first runner-up, Stacy relaxed, thinking someone else would be named the winner. When she heard her name, “my jaw just dropped. I just froze like I didn’t know what to do. My mom was screaming in the audience. I really had no idea what I was doing. I still don’t. It was pretty amazing, pretty neat.”
In Terre Haute, she’ll be one of the youngest contestants at 19; young women can compete up to age 24. So, again Stacy figures she won’t win but that’s not so important. “I get $500 (in scholarship money) just for going and I get to meet all the other girls. And I get to twirl. I want to show others what twirling is because a lot of kids don’t know about it.”
Kuckartz says she’s got the right attitude for competition. “Stacy’s always just herself. She never tries to be anything but what she is, while some girls might try to say the ‘right’ words or what they think the judges want to hear. She says ‘Take me as I am or don’t take me.’ I think that’s a neat trait.”
No matter what happens in Terre Haute, “she’ll leave that pageant with a smile on her face and will say “I had fun.’ She’ll give it her best effort and maintain a positive attitude about what she’s done.”
For Stacy, all the opportunities that twirling and pageant competition have brought her have simply underscored what she’s long believed – that she doesn’t have a disability.“I see it more as inner beauty rather than not making my face look so good,” she says. “Being able to go through something like a pageant is not a big deal any more.”