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Teen doesn’t let cerebral palsy keep her from modeling

Cortney Kovack Evergreen Park models dress thwas made for her for recent runway show. Standing behind her is her mother

Cortney Kovack, of Evergreen Park, models the dress that was made for her for a recent runway show. Standing behind her is her mother, Michele Kovack. | Supplied photo by Mike Meadows

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Updated: October 3, 2014 6:10AM



Cortney Kovack is an active 19-year-old, who enjoys cheerleading, singing in the choir and swimming. But her sparkling blue eyes and captivating smile are really what define this young lady from Evergreen Park.

Never mind that she is physically and mentally challenged by Cerebral Palsy. Cortney, who uses a wheelchair, loves to dress up and ham it up in front of a camera, is on her way to fulfilling a dream of being a runway model. Her smile has already opened more than a few doors for her.

Thanks to social media, Cortney was recently “discovered” by RunwayLOUD, which recently staged an entertainment/fashion show event in Branson, Missouri, to raise money for the March of Dimes.

Cortney was the only model participating who was disabled, and she brought the audience to its feet and to tears, according to her parents, Michele and Brian Kovack.

Cortney was the Kovack’s first child, born May 2, 1995, weighing a healthy 8 pounds, 2 ounces. It didn’t take long before doctors realized something was not right.

Still, like any parents, the Kovacks wanted to capture memories of their daughter in photos as she grew through the years, along with her younger brother Kyle.

But photographers at the mall could not capture the real Cortney, Brian Kovack said.

Michele took photography classes and learned to focus on disabled children.

“I became comfortable with these kids and it gave me confidence to pursue something with Cortney,” she said.

That was 13 or 14 years ago, and people were not ready to see handicapped children in advertisements or on TV, she said.

“If these kids are mainstreamed in a classroom, why not mainstream them on TV and in ads,” her dad said.

The media now seems to be embracing that idea, which Michele had years ago, he said.

Still, Michele was amazed when she posted a collage of Cortney on the Cerebral Palsy Family Network Facebook page in May and it received more than 1.6 million hits.

Cortney had a few modeling jobs before that, and appeared on WGN-TV four years ago with Changing the Face of Beauty, a local organization that looks to integrate disabled children into advertising mediums.

But Cortney’s offers really spiked once her photos went viral.

She posed wearing a tutu, made especially for girls in wheelchairs from Princess Tutu Boutique, and had a few seconds in a commercial featuring other handicapped children saying, “I’m awesome,” while wearing clothing from Differently Awesome.

And there’s been jewelry, headbands, sandals and more recently, a handmade coat from Etsy shop owners and boutiques — all sent to her for free — for a photo of her wearing it.

RunwayLOUD has been her biggest opportunity to date.

“What better fundraiser than March of Dimes?” Michele said. Throughout the event, Cortney was treated like a celebrity.

It was the first time Runway LOUD did a charity event and its first time with a disabled model, she said. “They were very professional.”

Event producer Sharra Smith said on the Runway LOUD website that they realized the opportunity “to help make a young girl’s wish come true and make an impact in her life, in a big way!”

“Having the honor to host Cortney, brings something more important to the RunwayLOUD event and to every person attending. She brings her dreams, and the dreams of other children just like her. In watching those dreams become a reality we get to be a small part of her happiness,” said Smith.

While Michele wheeled her daughter onto the runway, her father was in the audience “shaking and crying” as Cortney was warmly received with thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

“She just loves the attention,” Brian said.

In Branson, the folks treated her, “like she was someone special,” he said. “We think she’s special, but it’s nice to see other people who think so.”

They hope it will open up opportunities for other disabled people.

As parents of a special needs child, the Kovacks said, there is so much negativity, so many trials and tribulations. But this “give you a sense of normalcy,” Brian said.

“It’s nice when other people respond so positively, because so many people just stare at her,” Michele said.

She admits her family thought she was crazy for trying to pursue a bit of a modeling career for her daughter, who functions at the level of a three or four year old.

“She knew the RunwayLOUD event was all about her. She loves wearing makeup and dressing up,” Michele said.

Cortney, a happy, good-natured teen, has a winning smile, beautiful blue eyes and seems to shine in front of a camera.

“If that’s what she enjoys — why not?” said her mother, who just wants to create opportunities for her daughter.

They hope Cortney’s runway experience will open doors for other disabled people.

For Cortney, “what ever happens after this, happens,” her dad said.

“We used to joke about her being the first handicapped runway model. Maybe this dream is coming true,” Michele said.



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