By Joe Roberts @jrobertsjourno

A YOUNG girl has become an accomplished Junior Reserve Officer cadet, despite being born with no arms

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Videographer / director: Gerrit Messersmith
Producer: Joe Roberts, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal

Donavia Walker, 16, was born with a rare condition called Bilateral Amelia and has learned to use her feet to do everything from driving to using her phone.

Now, she is a squad commander and a part of the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC).

The Winterhaven, Florida-native told Barcroft Media: “People would put me down because they didn't think I could do as much as I can.

“They would tell me, ‘You can’t hold it, you have to use your hands to hold it,’ or ‘You can’t get that, you gotta use your hands to get it.’

“And I was like, ‘I can get it with my feet. I will find a way.’”

Donavia, whose grandmother gave her the nickname “Angel”, has indeed found a way to do everything a teenager does, using her feet.

Mother, Tisa Jones, said: “I noticed she would grab stuff with her foot so I’m like, I’m just gonna let her do it her way.

“She taught herself to draw, she actually can tie other people's shoes, she feeds herself, she takes herself to the bathroom, she does everything in the bathroom herself, I’m still trying to figure out how but she does it.”

Amelia is a birth defect that affects the limbs, sometimes causing them to be shrunken or deformed. In Donavia’s case, it meant she was born without any arms at all.

And though things are going well for the family now, Tisa recalls the shock of discovering Donavia’s condition at her birth.

“It was kind of scary,” she said. “When Donavia was born I saw these different nurses and doctors, they just ran in the room.

“I’m asking my mom and my aunt, ‘What’s wrong with her?’ and then I looked over at them and they are crying and the doctor was like, ‘You need to relax’.

“I took a glance over and I saw one of her arms were missing and I’m like, ‘She is missing an arm’ and that’s when he tells me she is missing both of them.

“And at that point I didn’t care. I just wanted my baby so I could go home."

Throughout Tisa’s pregnancy, no medical staff had informed her that her daughter had no developed arms in the womb.

“I felt betrayed like nobody told me nothing,” Tisa added. “I’m feeling like the person who did the ultrasound should have known.”

It took some time to get over the initial shock, but Donavia quickly started developing her own techniques to do everyday tasks, scooting on her bottom to get around instead of crawling.

Tisa said: “It really didn’t affect her life because the way she does stuff, everything comes to her naturally.”

Learning to drive has been one of Donavia’s big projects, which she does by using her right foot for the steering wheel and her left foot for the accelerator and break.

The 16-year-old also spent her time at school playing football for three years and even becoming part of the cheerleading squad.

But it’s the JROTC programme where she has really shone, leading her platoon in drill competitions and taking part in activities such as archery and rock climbing.

Sergeant Major Rudy Carter, US army retired, is Donavia’s instructor and has witnessed her development closely over the last three years.

He said: “I remember the first day she walked through the door… I had high hopes for her and she hasn’t disappointed.

“Every day that I see her walk through my classroom is a day that I realise that when I get up in the morning there is nothing that should limit me or nothing should hold me back.

“It’s people like Angel that make my job worth getting up for in the morning, make me want to get up and do the best that I can.”

And it’s not just her instructor that has been inspired by Donavia’s determination. Friends and fellow JROTC members are similarly impressed by her positive demeanour.

JROTC cadet Yazmine Hadley said: “Donavia is like an inspiration to me because she has done so much without her arms.

“It kind of shows me that I shouldn’t have an excuse as to why I can do certain things.”

For now, Donavia is focused on graduating high school and passing her final driving test, and is intent upon inspiring others along the way.

She said: “I would say to anyone with a physical condition that you should love yourself and find people who make you feel comfortable with yourself.

“There’s no reason you shouldn't love yourself.”