SYCAMORE – In July, 12-year-old Avery Gerdes of Sycamore had a photo shoot with a professional photographer, a video made about her, and her photos and story appeared in a national magazine celebrating child beauty.
For August’s issue of Beauty Revived magazine, Gerdes, a seventh-grader at Sycamore Middle School, was one of 50 children throughout the nation chosen to represent beauty – beauty not based on looks or fashion, but on true beauty found inside.
Gerdes was chosen by Sycamore photographer Suzanne Krull and a selection panel to appear in Beauty Revived. The 50 Beautiful Children Campaign is one of four movements hosted annually by the magazine; other campaigns include women, mothers and teachers.
Hundreds of photographers applied to be a part of the 50 Beautiful Children Campaign. Once she was selected, Krull asked for nominations for a child that shows inner beauty.
After receiving suggestions of children throughout northern Illinois, Krull chose Gerdes, who was nominated by Julie Sgarlata, the children’s ministry director at Sycamore United Methodist Church.
“I was looking for a child that overcame hardship, and came through it positively, impacted the community in some way and continues to give back to those that had a similar struggle,” Krull said. “The child that had all of those qualities and more was Avery.”
Gerdes is a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 3. Now cancer free, Gerdes speaks each year at a St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser in Naperville, cuts and donates her hair for Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program, organizes donations for children with cancer at the hospital and volunteers at her church.
“Most girls her age are obsessed with selfies and social media and looking perfect all the time,” Krull said. “Our society stresses outer beauty. It’s amazing that Avery’s been through so much at such a young age and has come out a better, stronger person because of it.”
Avery’s parents, Heidi and Aaron Gerdes, said that learning of their daughter’s nomination and selection for the magazine came as a happy surprise. In addition to being chosen for a free, personalized photo shoot with Krull, a video of the photography session was created by Mark Mitrovic of The Vic Media.
“I think that looking at her now, healthy, happy, with long hair and a cheerful smile, you’d never know all that she went through,” Heidi Gerdes said. “By appearing in the magazine, we hope we share the message that inner beauty is more important than anything. You can’t tell a person’s story just by looking at them.”
“By going through everything she went through, I think Avery has become a stronger person physically and emotionally,” Aaron Gerdes said. “Even in volleyball, if she falls down, she shouts ‘I’m OK’ and gets back up again. She’s a strong person inside and out.”
To show others what she went through with leukemia, Avery Gerdes keeps a bag full of Beads of Courage, chains full of beads she received after every medical procedure. Colored beads represent different aspects of her treatment such as chemotherapy, lumbar punctures, shots, blood draws and losing her hair. She has five chains full of beads of different shapes, sizes and colors.
Heidi Gerdes said that one of Avery’s biggest blessings is that she was too young to remember most of the medical treatments. However, as a survivor, Avery does remember how people treat others diagnosed with cancer.
“Some people can be really rude about cancer, even kids in my class sometimes make jokes,” Avery Gerdes said. “My grandma died from cancer and I never got to meet her. In volleyball, we played a team with a girl that lost her hair because of cancer treatments. It’s important for me to pray for her and for others diagnosed with cancer. I want to encourage them.”
Avery said her desire to help and encourage others doesn’t end with her story and photos being published in a magazine.
“I want to do a mission trip before I enter high school and I want to cut my hair again so it can be used for wigs,” she said. “I’ll continue to be involved with my church and its youth group, I’ll continue to talk at St. Baldrick’s fundraisers. I want to help and inspire others.”
To read Avery Gerdes’ story in Beauty Revived, visit www.beautyrevived.com/meet-avery-suzanne-krull-photography. For information about Suzanne Krull Photography, visit www.suzannekrullphotography.com. For information about The Vic Media and to watch Avery Gerdes’ photography session video, visit www.thevicmedia.com.