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You have to hand it to this Collins volleyball player

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Collins volleyball player Christen Stewart has one hand that’s, well, different, but don’t tell her it’s a disability.

By Josh Cook

Other than the fact that she has the same name – albeit spelled differently – as one of the stars of the Twilight movie series, Collins junior Christen Stewart is pretty much your normal 16-year-old.

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She has her driver’s permit.

She has a boyfriend.

She plays volleyball.

Stewart, however, has one distinguishing physical feature. It’s one that may not be immediately identifiable, even on the court, but one that she whole-heartedly embraces.

Stewart, a 5-foot-8 outside hitter for the Titans, was born with an abnormal left hand. 

“Doctors say it just got caught in the womb and just stopped growing,” Stewart said, showing off the hand that has an index finger and four much smaller digits.

And although first-year Collins Coach Cary Clark says that Stewart’s hand is a “non-issue” on the team, her presence, performance, persistence and personality are an inspiration to others.

“Probably mostly because it’s something about her that she can’t change, and it’s never bothered her,” junior libero Koti Weaver said. “She’s never complained about it once. And while a lot of us, especially as girls, complain about our physical image, to see Christen not even consider her ‘disability’ a problem is just simply because it’s who she is. I think it should be inspiring to anyone who knows her.”

For Stewart, though, it’s just a way of life.

“Ever since I’ve played volleyball, people would come up to my mom and say, ‘She’s amazing,’” she said. “But I’ve lived with it my whole life.”

And she’s adapted to it. Therapies have allowed her to pick up a pen, as well as pennies, with her left hand. As a child she would hang on the monkey bars with her left arm. She also learned how to do a one-handed cartwheel.

“She’s never really hid it from any one, never put it in her pocket,” Weaver, a long-time friend, said.

Stewart, who started playing volleyball in the fifth grade, credits her parents, Karen and Kenny, for their encouragement, both in sports and in life.

“I remember one time I was doubting myself [because of my hand], and my parents said, ‘You know you can do anything,’” she said.

One of the things Stewart likes to do, especially as she has gotten older, is discuss her physical difference.

“Now that I’m older I embrace it anywhere I go, because I want to make people as comfortable with it as I can,” she said. “I’d rather have someone talk to me about it than just stare at it.”

She extended her left hand. “I always paint these fingers, too. I always feel like it’s a part of me, so I don’t want to leave it out,” Stewart said.

Weaver recalled one instance when a stranger spotted Stewart’s left hand from afar and asked to see it.

“Christen was like, ‘Sure,’ and she pulled her sleeve up,” Weaver said.

The result, her friends, schoolmates and teammates have embraced her hand – quite literally – as well.

“Everybody at school loves it. They hold it and play with it,” Stewart said. “They say, ‘Oh, your hand is so cute.’”

When Stewart is on the bench, it’s not uncommon to see one of her teammates holding her left hand. Included among those is Weaver’s younger sister, Kori, a freshman defensive specialist.  

“Kori asked me the other day, ‘Do you think Christen would mind if I asked if I could hold it?’” Koti Weaver said recently. “She was the last person who would ever care.

“Christen is a very sweet and she’s very genuine. She’s never, ever been self-conscious of it.”

Even on the court.

In a match last year at North Bullitt, Stewart blocked one of the Eagles’ hitters, then overheard some of the girl’s teammates.

“They were like, ‘That girl blocked you with one hand. That’s so cool,” she said.

Although she usually doesn’t start, Stewart, who is in her second year on the varsity, rotates in on the front row.

“I can’t set. That’s like the only thing I can’t do. I can hit, and I can pass perfectly,” she said.

Said Clark: “When she does play back row, it doesn’t affect her play at all. Her serving is getting much-improved [too].”

One thing that Stewart may not need to improve, however, is her outlook.

“I remember us specifically asking her, ‘Do you ever wish you had another hand?’” Weaver said. “And her response was ‘Eh, it would be cool at times, but I don’t really care.’ That’s just always been Christen.”

Said Stewart: “I think it would be cool to have for a day, but I like myself the way I am. I wouldn’t want to change it.”