As a child and a little person, Cheyanne Stonesifer admits that she would sometimes try to take the easy way out.
"When I was younger and I couldn't reach something, I would ask, 'Can someone reach this for me?'"
But her mother, also a little person, would have none of it.
"My mother would say, 'Cheyanne, just grab a chair and reach for it yourself.' You've just got to do what you have to do," Stonesifer said.
It was a lesson young Stonesifer learned well. She has spent her life working harder and reaching higher. And now she has seen a dream of hers come true. Stonesifer will be competing in the Miss Maryland USA pageant in the fall and is most likely the first little person to ever compete in the pageant. The event will take place Nov. 4-6 in North Bethesda.
"I want everyone to know that you don't have to look a certain way or be a certain size to feel beautiful," Stonesifer said.
Stonesifer, a lifelong resident of Taneytown, was born with achondroplasia dwarfism, a genetic condition. Her grandmother, mother and sister are all little people, with her being the smallest, standing at 3-foot-10. Achondroplasia is a form of short-limbed dwarfism, occurring in one out of 15,000 to 40,000 births.
As a result of the condition, Stonesifer faced medical challenges early on. At a 1 1/2 years old, she underwent spinal decompression surgery at Johns Hopkins under the care of renowned neurosurgeon and later presidential candidate Ben Carson. That procedure would be followed by another when she was 5 years old.
"Usually little people have bowed legs or a curved spine," Stonesifer explained. "I actually had to have my left leg broken and reset. I couldn't move for about two months. That was not fun, especially when you're 5."
It was also around this time as she prepared to begin kindergarten that Stonesifer's parents sat her down and explained how she was different.
"They told me that when I went to school there would be people who would stare and laugh," she said. "Others might ask me questions. And still others might want to be my best friend because I was little."
She went to school, answered questions and made friends.
By the time she was in high school, the young girl who had undergone spinal decompression surgery and had her left leg broken and reset, was taking dance classes.
"Because I was smaller, I was usually in the center and in the front so the audience could see me," she said. "I liked being in front. I was like, 'Hey, look at me!'"
Now 20, Stonesifer has long since learned how to respond to stares and questions with a good spirit. A typical trip to the grocery store may entail explaining to a curious child why she is so small while the mother looks on apologetically.
"I say that this is the way God made me," Stonesifer said. "I'm just like everyone else but smaller."
While reality television shows such as "Little People, Big World" have made society more accepting of little people, "there are always going to be people who are going to judge," she said.
They can even be dangerous. Last year, Stonesifer was visiting a park with her cousins when she became separated from them. A group of young men made advances toward her. When she rebuked them, they did not take it well.
"They picked me up and tried to rudely wrestle with me and threw me on the ground," she recalled.
Stonesifer got away and safely made it home. But the impact of the experience still lingers.
"I was in shock," she said, her voice quivering slightly.
Her voice brightened, though, when the topic returned to the pageant.
"I grew up watching pageants, but I never dreamed I would be in one," she said.
This is, in fact, the second time Stonesifer has been chosen for the Miss Maryland USA program. The first time, a couple of years ago, she was dealing with personal issues and chose not to compete. This time she is eager to do so. She has created a GoFundMe site to help with her pageant expenses. And she has chosen her dress, "red with sparkles," and has been thinking how she will respond to the interview questions by the judges.
"She is confidently beautiful," said Kathy Juris, a recruiter for the Miss Maryland USA pageant. "If she comes across the same way she did with me during the telephone interview, the judges are going to fall in love with her."
Juris spoke to Stonesifer during a phone interview to determine if she would be admitted to the pageant. She was not aware that Stonesifer was a little person until Stonesifer informed her of that fact.
"Secretly, I'm rooting for her," admitted Juris.
Not that Stonesifer doesn't have her own doubts at times.
Carroll County Breaking News
"What will the judges think of me? What will the audience think of me?" she said. "But I am confident. I want little girls and young ladies watching me to think if I can do it they can do it as well."
Besides her focus on the pageant, Stonesifer is in a committed relationship and would like to someday have a family of her own.
"If they are little or averaged-sized, I will love them either way," she said of her future children. "I will teach them to be confident and strong and that they are no different from anyone else."
Taking classes at Carroll Community College, she would also like to enter the medical field and care for sick children.
"I want to become a pediatric oncologist," she said.
No matter what the future holds, she plans to continue to set her sights high.
"I believe I can do anything I set my heart and mind to," she said. "And so can anyone else."