Later this summer, Holli Hunt will fly to Omaha, Nebraska, to represent Utah in the Miss Amazing Pageant.
Amazing is a pretty good way to describe Holli.
It’s amazing that she willed herself to walk.
Amazing that she has endured more than 20 surgeries and is still smiling.
Amazing that she graduated from high school, drives, swims, bowls, works and has her own apartment.
Holli was born was spina bifida, a birth defect in which some of the vertebrae fail to fuse and enclose the spinal cord, usually resulting in disability. Holli is paralyzed from the waist down. It was a severe case, and doctors told her parents, Don and Trudi, that she would never walk.
Then the hard work began. Trudi took Holli to Primary Children’s Hospital twice weekly for therapy to build her strength. She faced surgery after surgery, mostly for orthopedic issues. She also had a shunt placed in her head to drain fluid. “She was determined and always had a smile on her face,” says Trudi. Later, Holli would hang a sign on the wall of her room that she would call her motto: I never said it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it.
When she was 6 years old, she took her first step with a walker. Trudi was so excited that she picked up Holli, threw the walker in the car and drove to her mother’s office so she could show her. From then, Holli walked with the aid of arm braces and crutches. Then she set her sights on riding a bike, which she did with a big assist from Don, a mechanic at West Side Auto in Grantsville. The Salt Lake Rotary Club donated a bike, and Don did the rest. He rebuilt it so his daughter could pedal the bike with her hands. It was such a success that others with disabilities asked him to build similar bikes for them; he has made about 15 of them so far.
When she was 8, Holli was determined to swim. Her family took her to a pool in Tooele and tried to give her swimming lessons themselves. A stranger named Mark Emai, an excellent swimmer, saw them and volunteered to give her swim lessons free. With Emai’s help, she became a good swimmer.
In her teen years, Holli decided she wanted a green VW Bug — no one knew why, but her heart was set on it. Don bought a VW bug and painted it green, then modified it so she could drive it with hand controls.
“My dad never let me get behind in anything,” she says. “My whole family was that way. Whenever I need something, they drop everything for me.”
Holli struck out on her own and took an apartment in Tooele. A few years ago she went to the UEC Theaters 9 and asked if they had anything she could do. They hired her on the spot to be a ticket taker. She drives her electric wheelchair the two blocks to and from the theater each day, in snow, rain and heat. She got stuck in the snow one day and had to call dispatch for help. She got stuck another time and a citizen stopped and helped her.
Last fall, Holli developed sores on the bottom of her feet. Because she has no feeling below the waist, she was unaware of the sores until they became more serious. As a result, she has been unable to walk since November and unable to drive her green Bug because it cannot accommodate her wheelchair. The family is hoping to scrape up enough money to buy her a truck with a loader for her wheelchair.
“I’ve tried to get her to move home to help her get her feet healed,” says Trudi. “She says, ‘No, I’m fine; I can do it.’ ”
Holli missed a couple of weeks of work because of the sores, but she’s back on the job. She always has a smile and something nice to say to movie patrons. She chats them up about the movie or the weather or whatever. During her recent absence, they asked about her and some contacted her to see if she was OK.
Two of those patrons, Mark and Maryanne Gines, noticed her at the theater and suggested that she enter the Miss Amazing Pageant, which was created “to provide opportunities for girls and women with disabilities to build self-confidence in a supportive environment.” She demurred. “I can’t do that; I’m not pretty enough,” she said. The Gines persisted and she entered the pageant in Logan last March and was crowned the winner.
“I’m just so excited for her,” says Trudi. “She’s had so many struggles and surgeries and negative things. She’s an amazing person because of her outlook on life. The pageant experience was wonderful.”
In August, the Hunts will fly to Omaha for the national Miss Amazing Pageant. Friends and supporters are trying to raise money and find sponsors for the travel. There was a car wash and a raffle. A yard sale is scheduled for July 12. Donations can be submitted through Gofundme.com/hollihunt.
Meanwhile, Holli, now 29 years old, works at the theater, dates a boy, participates in a bowling league and prepares for the stage in Omaha. It’s a full life.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org