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Jordan Reeves is like many active 13-year-olds: She loves running, cheerleading and playing basketball, and she even plays the piano and trumpet.
She also happens to do it all with one full arm. Reeves was born with a left arm that stopped growing just above the elbow.
But Reeves has never let this hold her back. In fact, her limb difference inspired her to become a designer, as well as a role model for other kids with physical differences. That's why today is honoring her as a Groundbreaker for International Day of the Girl.
Reeves rose to fame in 2016 when she designed a 3D-printed prosthetic arm with a special superpower: it shoots biodegradable glitter in honor of her alter ego, Glitter Girl.
She got the idea at Superhero Cyborgs 2.0, a San Francisco camp for kids with upper limb differences.
“They told us that we could design anything that we wanted to off of our disability. I decided that I wanted to shoot glitter,” Reeves told TODAY. “It was just really in the moment, like, ‘This would be really cool.’”
After the camp, Reeves returned home to Columbia, Missouri, and continued working on her prosthetic design, aka Project Unicorn, via weekly calls with a professional designer.
Her mom, Jen Lee Reeves, posted about Project Unicorn online and Reeve’s inspiring story soon went viral.
Before long, Reeves was everywhere: She made national headlines, gave multiple TEDx talks and even had the chance to pitch Project Unicorn to the "Shark Tank" investors during an episode of "The Rachael Ray Show."
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This is a lot for anyone to handle, but Reeves said she’s never felt too nervous in the public eye.
“I've always been really public about everything, and I've grown up to be confident about myself,” she told TODAY.
Reeves has always had a fiercely independent streak, which her parents encouraged as she grew up. Even though she sometimes needed to do things differently because of her arm, her mom and dad allowed her to figure things out by herself.
In Reeves' eyes, this has made her a great problem solver.
“I like to do stuff on my own,” Reeves said. “I appreciated (my parents’ approach) a lot because I feel like I'd be more needing help with everything and I wouldn't be confident in my ability to do things. I appreciate them doing that.”
Reeves has turned her limb difference into a source of strength, but she admits it can still be frustrating when people stare at her arm in public.
“I feel like the hardest part about having a disability is judgment,” she said. “You really just want to blend in at some times. At some points, you just want to stand out and I get that. But when you do stand out, the stares can really hurt sometimes. I know, personally, I'd like to be seen as my personality and not by my disability because I think I have a good personality.”
Fighting for representation
In 2017, Reeves and her mom co-founded Born Just Right, a nonprofit foundation that brings together families and kids dealing with limb differences and similar challenges.
The organization also helps kids learn the design and STEM tools they need to find their own creative solutions to living with a physical difference, like Reeves did with Project Unicorn.
Building on the work of their foundation, the mother-daughter duo recently wrote a book together, “Born Just Right," about Reeves' empowering story.
Both mother and daughter and fighting to increase awareness and representation for people living with physical differences, including in the toy industry. Reeves petitioned American Girl to create a doll with a limb difference, and she recently worked with Mattel to help them develop a Barbie with a prosthetic leg.
“I'm super proud of her,” Jen Lee Reeves told TODAY. “What I think people don't realize is this was years and years of work that Jordan has put in … she's proved that time and energy can really lead to big things if you just keep believing.”
Reeves says her mom is one of her biggest female inspirations.
“My mom (is my role model) because she's always been there for me, and she's confident and amazing, and I love her,” she said.
Reeves has become a role model herself for other girls living with a disability. She says kids sometimes write to her online or approach her at events to tell her how much she’s inspired them.
“I think it's really cool,” she said. “I don't think I see myself as someone that big, and just knowing that kids are inspired by me just blows my mind.”
Now in the eighth grade, Reeves is busy as ever. She and three other young members of Born Just Right just launched a new youth consultancy, Make Just Right. The idea is that companies will consult them when they need input on inclusive designs, like Mattel sought Jordan's expertise as they designed a Barbie with a prosthetic limb.
“They're trying to expand the knowledge that they have in design, so more kids can do what she's doing, and give that kind of input to companies that need it,” her mom explained.
Looking ahead, Reeves' career options seem pretty much limitless. Right now, she’s dreaming of becoming a designer.
“I think I want to be a designer and design cool stuff for accessibility, but also just cool stuff overall,” she said. “We'll see.”
In the meantime, Jordan has some advice for other young girls living with a physical difference.
“My advice would be just believe in yourself even when times get hard,” she said. “Be confident in your personality no matter how annoying the stares may get … You can do amazing things, and don't let anyone hold you back.”