In every aspect Benjamin Cardozo High School senior Kayla Garcia is an average teenage girl.
She goes to parties with her friends, complains about the length of the SAT, and is still contemplating which college to attend next year.
But Kayla, 17, was born without her right forearm.
“When I first had her I was worried, is she going to ride a bike?” said Cindy, Kayla’s mother. “But then I was like, it’s stupid to worry about stuff like that. She’s healthy, there is nothing mentally wrong with her, those are the kind of challenges that are probably harder to overcome.”
Kayla, who is a member of Cardozo’s step team and cheerleading squad, is just fine with her body and is hoping to continue dancing in college.
She wants to major in psychology, while participating on the cheerleading and stepping teams at the next level. Kayla is considering a wide range of schools, including Dickinson College, Hofstra University, Wesleyan University or Ithaca College, among others.
“I’m excited for that, I’m not nervous for college,” Kayla said. “I’m just wondering where I am going to go.”
Her right arm is stunted to about her elbow, but the Flushing teen uses the ligament naturally, such as to brush aside her long, wild hair when strands creep in front of her face.
During her years in Cardozo she has done various extracurricular activities, including volunteering at local organizations and events, such as the Dribble for a Cure cancer fundraiser at St. John’s University with the cheerleading team. She is also part of Cardozo’s Leadership Class, the student government group that oversees all club activities, parties and numerous events for the more than 4,000 students enrolled in the school.
Kayla performs with the step club during the school’s popular basketball games, and the cheerleading squad at the football games.
She shines with confidence, despite the missing limb, because Kayla has been attending support groups since she was about three years old with her mother to meet with parents and other children in similar situations.
Cindy heard some advice that stuck with her from the groups, which influenced the way she raised Kayla. “Your kid is normal, how people perceive her that’s their problem. Raise her like you would any other kid and she’ll be fine,” Cindy recalled.
And she followed through. When Kayla was about eight years old, Cindy pushed her into salsa dance classes.
Kayla developed a love for dancing, which years later she used to be accepted into Cardozo, after auditioning her talents for the school’s performing dance program.
Looking towards the future Kayla doesn’t think she will cheer or do dancing for a career. She also doesn’t want a right forearm.
Since she never had one, she doesn’t even miss it.
“I’m so used to doing everything with one. Doing it with two would throw me off,” Garcia said. “I am just used to being this way I wouldn’t want [a prosthetic arm].”