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  • Writer's pictureKeepers By Kelly

Annie | Journey

Annie is an amazing person inside and out. I am so happy that our paths crossed and I had the privilege to photograph her. She was full of energy and was willing to do whatever I asked. I appreciate that from my models. :) She will help and encourage so many people. I can't wait to see what her future holds.

I asked her to write out her story to share with everyone.

This is what Annie wanted to share:

Annie Leiding’s Alopecia Journey

My journey hasn’t been easy, but I proud to be where I am today. All thanks for the amazing support that I have around me.

My life was going great, I just have transferred to Concordia University Ann Arbor for my sophomore year to continue their academically and to continue playing softball. I was living in the dorms with a roommate... life was good but then...

In October (2017) I noticed I was losing more hair than usual. This then turned into having two bald spots on my head and then each day I was seeing more hair down the shower drain and more bald spots on my head. At first I could hid it with a thick headband, but then it just got worse and worse which then I turned to wearing a hat 100% of the time. I would put my hand in my hair and clumps would fall out. I felt defeated. My mom and I went right to the Dermatologists and on October 17, two days before my 19th birthday I was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata. For three months, I received the only thing that might help “cure” Alopecia and that was getting steroid shots on my bald spots. I would get at least 15 to 25 shots in my head. It was so incredible painful. After three months, I wasn’t seeing improvement and I couldn’t take the pain anymore, so we moved on to the next step.

I got fitted for a wig. At the wig salon, they had to shave my head for the wig to fit right. I wasn’t ready for this step but this was the best thing for me. From there on, I joined the bald club. I no longer had to watch my hair fall out in front of me. I got my wig and it was prefect. It was a whole new lifestyle. I loved it, but secretly hated my wig. I loved that it made me look like me before, but felt like it was hiding who I really was. I didn’t like at least 3 hours of washing and styling the hair, or each day making sure all parts of the wig was hidden so it didn’t look like a wig, or when there was a piece of hair in my face and not knowing where it was coming from. The first thing I would do when I came home was run upstairs to my bedroom to take my wig off and put a hat on.

On January 28, I learned to overcome through adversity. I decided to wear a winter hat to a night workout lift with my softball team. I started getting hot during this workout. My coaches started getting a little worried. I went to the bathroom to take my hat off and cool down for a second. My assistant coach came in and she told me to go back in there but without my hat. I kept on refusing her order and started crying. My assistant coach left and came back with my head coach and one of my teammates headbands and told me to put it on and walk in. I told my coaches I can't do it. This is my worst nightmare. They express to me that I am beautiful and they had my back and everyone else did too. They called one of my friends over to us in the hallway and she too told me that the team will, no matter everyone will be support of. I trusted all three of them. As I was walking back into the weight room to finish my workout with my coaches behind me, I was crying because how scared and nervous I was. My team all stopped what they were doing and all the sudden came running up to me, embracing me with big hugs, encouraging words and support. This moment I felt so loved and gained so much confidence from this overpowering love. From there I felt comfortable to not have to wear a hat around my team. I felt confident in my new look-a headband with no hair.

My head softball coach was extremely support of through this time of losing my hair. She would let me come in her office and I would shed tears or when she knew I was struggling she would send me motivation. One thing she preached to me was using this as my platform in life. She always told me that hair doesn’t define me and there will be an outcome to this. From these conversation, I started to think about using it as my platform. One night, I googled Alopecia and this organization called Children Alopecia Project came up. I saw that this organization had different camps and saw that their biggest camp of the year (Alopeciapalooza) was just in a couple of months. I emailed the head guy and told him I would love to volunteer at this camp. He replied within days and sent me the application. There were about two lines where it asked why I would be a volunteer. I ended up writing a whole page. A few weeks later, I got an email from the head guy saying I was in and here is the schedule for the camp that is going in August in Flint, Texas. I looked at it and it showed I was speaking on the last day! I was up for this challenge!

The night before I left for Alopeciapalooza I had all my family members, cousins, aunts/uncles all over to my house and I gave my speech to them, since this was going to be the first time I ever have public spoken in a large crowd, and to give my family a glance of what I have gone through since they have only heard pieces of my journey. It was eye opening for a lot of them.

The next day I flew to Texas for Alopeciapalooza. I got to the camp and there were so many kids of all ages and their families with them. Here I knew this is where I fit in. Throughout the 4 days, we had many different activities that we could do like swimming with driving boards, high ropes course, giant swing, and many different games. Also, are days were spent watching the other speakers speak. There were some known people that spoke who has Alopecia like Kevin Bull (American Ninja Warrior), Rock Thomas (motivational speaker), Laura Hathaway (Body Builder), and Anthony Carrigan (actor). I learned so much from them and heard their amazing journeys which help inspire me. I was blown away with the Alopecia support at this camp and just felt so loved. I did not feel comfortable taking my head wraps off at the camp since I have only gone bald when I with my team. On the last day, it was my turn to give my speech. I went up there with my wig on. I began my speech and said, “Is it me or it is hot in here” and I took my wig off and put a headband on. This was an unforgettable moment that I will never forget. I got a standing ovation and the crowd was in tears. I never thought I would do this but I am seeing all the kids at this camp happy and brave running around bald, I thought to myself, “if they can do it, why can’t I.” Since then I have not put my wig back on. I ended up giving about a 30-minute speech. It was just an incredible outcome. Coming into this camp I thought I was comfortable in my own shoes, but leaving this camp I had found a whole new me.

Adjusting to not wearing a wig was difficult at first, but I just kept in mind from one of the speakers saying that the first day is always the hardest. My parents were shocked about me not wearing my wig. At first I think they were a little angry with me because they spent so much money on it, but they are adjusting to my lifestyle choice. It is not an easy thing and I need to have more patients with them about it. Not every day is perfect I still miss my hair every day, but there is nothing I can do about it so I make the best of it. I enjoy all the head wraps and headbands I can wear because this is my look and I like it this way. Concordia has been an outstanding support for me. I have only received the good things from everyone.

Since Alopeciapalooza last August, I have attended another Alopecia camp that was through the same organization. It was the Ohio Alopecia Camp which I spoke at this camp too. I attend this camp in early October. I told how my journey has been without my wig. These two camps have made such an impact on my life. Not only do I get to help them through my story, but they are helping me too. I am grateful to have found these camps and I can’t wait to speak at Alopeciapalooza this June in Maine.

Another element that I have added to my life since my first Alopeciapalooza is I have created my own business. Last semester I got an opportunity to take an entrepreneurship class at Concordia. In this class, I create my own business and then take it to the CUAAlaunch that was hosted at Concordia on November 27. My business is inspired by my Alopecia diagnosis. I named my business B3Annie. LLC, meaning Bald, Brave, & Beautiful. My business is a motivational speaking business offering coaching, nutrition consulting for those with autoimmune conditions, and helping young people who are face with challenges and adversity. With this I can go to schools, events, hospitals, churches, etc. to public speak about my story and relate it to those struggling and help them overcome it. My business is not only for the Alopecia community, but for anyone who in facing challenges. At the CUAAlaunch, I pitched my business to judges who them awarded funding. I received 2nd place in this competition and with that received $700 for my new created business. From creating my business this year, I have public spoke at six events. The most recent ones I have spoke to was to 8th grader girls at my old Middle School and a 3rd grade class. Everyone goes through challenging times and can relate somehow to my message. I am excited to keep growing my business and make an impact on this community.

Recently we are had a Concordia Awards ceremony for all the sports teams there. This was a great event that has taken place the past 4 years. This year not only did my team and I win the champion of character award, but I received the Marvin Jenkins “Courage” Award from my coach. My coach shared how I have showed courage through my journey with Alopecia. This was a true honor to receive this award and I was super surprised. Everything that I have dealt with has showed me that there is a reason for everything. I was truly blessed by amazing support for my coaches, my team, and Concordia.

Lastly, living the life with Alopecia is not easy. I do sometime still struggle with my confidence. I have a twin sister and I found myself comparing to her or my mom asking me to wear my wig or having random people coming up to me asking if I am sick. Life is what you make of it and each day I am learning and growing from it. My confidence has grown and that is a big thanks to Kelly. I am so thankful that my life has crossed paths with her. Kelly reached out to me and asked if I would like to do a photoshoot with her. I have never done a photoshoot before but I was up for the challenge. During the photoshoot, Kelly had me do some crazy poses and I had full trust in her, but not really knowing why she was doing this. A few days later, I received the pictures and I couldn’t have been happier to see them. Looking at the pictures that she took has gave me so much more confidence in myself. I honestly have not thought of myself as beautiful since losing majority of my hair, but when I looked at these pictures it opened my eyes and I am proud of what I look like. I got to see my mom a day after receiving these pictures and I sat down and looked at them with her. This was the first time my mom did not mention that I should of worn my wig and she said I look beautiful this way and I knew she meant it. It was an amazing moment and showed me that hair does not define who I am.

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