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First-Grader With No Hands Wins First National Penmanship Award for Those With Disabilities

"learned to go slow."

Annie Clark (Photo: Larry Roberts/Pittsburg Post-Gazette)

WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. (The Blaze/AP) -- A Pittsburgh-area girl born without hands has won a penmanship award -- and $1,000 -- from a company that publishes language arts and reading textbooks.

Zaner-Bloser Inc. recognized 7-year-old Annie Clark at Wilson Christian Academy in West Mifflin on Wednesday with its first-ever Nicholas Maxim Award.

Nicholas Maxim was a Maine fifth-grader born without hands or lower arms who entered the company's penmanship contest last year. His work impressed judges enough that they created a new category for students with disabilities.

After the ceremony Wednesday, Clark demonstrated her ability to write by manipulating a pencil between her forearms. Asked whether she was nervous about the attention, the girl said, "Not really, but kind of."

Watch this footage (via USA Today) of Clark receiving the award and showing off just how she writes without hands:

The girl's parents, Tom and Mary Ellen Clark, have nine children -- three biological and six adopted from China, including Annie. Annie is one of four of the adoptees who have disabilities that affect their hands or arms. The Clarks also have an adopted child, Alyssa, 18, and a biological daughter, Abbey, 21, with Down syndrome.

"Each time, we weren't looking to adopt a special-needs child, but that is what happened," said Mary Ellen Clark, 48, of McKeesport. "This was the family God wanted for us."

Annie has learned to paint, draw and color. She also swims, dresses, eats meals and opens cans of soda by herself, and uses her iPod touch and computers without assistance. She hopes to someday write books about animals.

The Pittsburg Post-Gazette has more from Annie about the success she's had in handwriting:

When Annie spoke with reporters, she explained her handwriting technique, which includes capital letters at the beginning of sentences and punctuation at the end. "I think about doing words and spelling," she explained, adding that she has "learned to go slow."

"She's an amazing little girl," said Tom Clark, 49, who owns an automotive dealership. "It's a shame because society places so many rules on how people should look, but the minds of these kids are phenomenal."

Mary Ellen Clark hopes the award encourages her daughter "that she can do anything."

The Post-Gazette stated that Annie's school places an emphasis on proper penmanship, even in an age when many are shifting to digital technology and typepads. The Post-Gazette explained that all students grades 1-8 are encouraged to submit their samples to the Zaner-Bloser competition. Annie's was chosen among the first graders with a letter to event organizers about her disability. From there the organizers, submitted the writing sample for the award specifically for children with disabilities.

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