Karlee Cooper was born missing the lower part of her right arm.
But she doesn’t let that define who she is.
“For me growing up, I didn’t have a role model,” Cooper said. “I wanted to turn on the TV and see someone like me or open a magazine and see a model that’s missing an arm or a leg.
“I think that would be a big deal to see that they’re not just talking about how they lost their leg, but they’re featured in magazines, they’re TV hosts and news anchors.”
So last summer, Cooper and friends Mackenzie Gardiner and Miah Hamm – all seniors at Northwest High School – decided to make that effort the focus of a public relations campaign for DECA, a business and marketing club for high school and college students.
Their campaign, “so what,” took first place at the state DECA competition on March 5.
Now they will advance to the international competition in Anaheim, Calif., April 23-28, which happens to be during National Limb Loss Awareness Month, according to the Amputee Coalition.
More than 15,000 students are expected to attend the international competition, said Jeff Darr, Northwest’s DECA adviser.
“It’s a pretty big deal when you make it to that level of competition,” Darr said.
“All the stars have to be aligned and everything has to go perfect to win it all. But a good project is a good project, and most judges at the international competition will see that.”
At the competition, team members will present a 10-minute speech and answer questions from judges for five minutes. If they advance to finals, they’ll do the same thing again.
“The competition is fierce,” Hamm said.
Their campaign slogan is, “We’re more than what we’re missing.”
According to the Amputee Coalition, there are about 2 million people in the U.S. living with limb loss. Diabetes and trauma are the two main causes. The group says that about 185,000 amputations occur in the U.S. every year.
So far, more than 8 million people across the globe have been exposed to the “so what” campaign using various marketing strategies, including social media, Gardiner said.
“We felt like social media is always changing and always growing, and the younger generation is spending more time on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook,” Gardiner said. “Our main target was the younger generation, and we wanted to influence those kids.”
“People post on our Facebook page their stories of how their husband came home from war or their daughter is missing an arm, and they have such good things to say about the campaign, so we really feel we are making a difference and impacting people,” Hamm said.
The girls all plan to attend college next year. Cooper plans to attend Butler Community College and later Kansas State University for a degree in marketing.
Gardiner and Hamm plan to attend Hutchinson Community College. Gardiner is thinking about marketing or becoming an X-ray technician. Hamm is considering business, accounting and marketing.
They aren’t sure about how the campaign will continue once they go to college.
“But I would like to take this campaign and make it really big, be able to go and travel and talk to people about how I’ve overcome my differences and how others should be able to overcome their differences, too,” Cooper said.