Pageant winner instills hope
“I just hope to keep being an inspiration for others,” said the 18-year old Bedford resident, who recently was crowned the Collegiate Miss New Hampshire.
“I wasn't one to ever think about entering a pageant,” Franz said, “so it's cool that I did it and ended up winning. It was really unreal.”
Franz suffers from a rare genetic disorder known as Friedreich's ataxia, a condition that results in abnormal speech, weakened muscles and other symptoms.
Entering her freshman year at Bedford High School, Franz knew it was time to use a wheelchair.
In spite of the troubles she has faced as a result of that, Franz has the strength to turn it into an advantage, and help kids dealing with bullying.
“I feel like I've been through that all my years through high school, being in a wheelchair and being left behind and talked about,” she said. “I feel like I can show other people that you can get through it.”
At the age of 13, Franz started an organization, Holly's Hopes, to raise money for research on neuromuscular diseases.
She said that – along with strong grades – gave her the edge over the other contestants for the title of Miss New Hampshire Collegiate.
“It's really not a beauty pageant, its really about your creativity and how you're going to stand up for the (anti-bullying) platform,” she said. “So I think Holly's Hopes really was a big part of it because not many 18-year-olds have their own organization.”
In the fall, Franz will leave home for the first time to live on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University, where she will study business and international merchandising. She hopes to continue appearing before student groups and talk about how it's possible to get through bullying and the trying years of high school.
Franz's mother, Hannelore Federfill, counts herself as one of the proudest parents around. Federfill said Holly works with the Make a Wish Foundation, as well as Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge in her spare time.
“Before she was diagnosed she was very athletic, she was in gymnastics, she was on the soccer team, she played tennis – a bright-spirited girl, very happy with life.”
When she was in fourth grade, the family started noticing that Holly was unsure of her step. They thought it was just part of growing up, but when it persisted they took her in for DNA tests.
“The six weeks that we had to wait for the results were heart-wrenching,” she said. In the meantime, they read up on the condition, learning that the prognosis was grim.
Federfill said the condition affects people in different ways. Holly's case wasn't as severe as others, but it left her bound to a wheelchair by freshman year.
“It was tough,” Federfill said sadly. “It's hard enough going into high school being a teen and being a girl. People didn't want to be the one hanging with the girl in the wheelchair.”
But Holly kept on. She found a new group of friends, founded her own organization, and did the hard work in school that would eventually earn her the Miss New Hampshire Collegiate title.
“She's very strong-willed,” Federfill said of her daughter. “She doesn't worry that she's in a wheelchair. 'I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna try. And if I can't do it I can't,'” she said in describing her daughter's attitude.
For more information, or to donate to Holly Franz's cause, visit hollyshope.weebly.com.
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