There are people who come along in our lives who have the gift of inspiring others. Kelsey Minick is one of them.
Born in Russia, she was adopted by an Akron couple and brought to the United States in 2002. A few months later, when Kelsey was just 2 years old, her adoptive father, Gerald Hyre, in a fit of rage, severed the toddler's spine.
But Kelsey, now 10, is resilient. Re-adopted by Chuck and Sue Minick, she is living a dream, refusing to let her disability rule her life.
The Suffield Elementary fourth-grader is starring in a movie based in part on her own life. More Than Chance will premiere at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Akron Civic Theatre.
''I just want to show kids with disabilities that they can become whatever they want to be,'' said Kelsey from her home in Suffield Township.
It won't be Kelsey's debut at the Civic. In 2006, the Beacon Journal wrote a series of stories about the child's life and her dream, like that of many little girls, to become a ballerina. The folks at Ballet Theatre of Ohio were so enchanted by Kelsey's fantasy that they asked her to play the younger sister of Clara in a production of The Nutcracker. Last year, she got more stage time as the Sugar Plum Express, the costume made to accommodate her small wheelchair. And now this.
Local film producer Debra Johanyak, an English professor at the University of Akron, Wayne College, has been working on the film for about two years.
''Kelsey is such an interesting person that you hardly notice her disability. It rather enhances more than hinders her in the way she inspires everyone,'' said Johanyak, who met the Minicks at church. ''So I thought about that and decided that all of us can learn more from disabled people like Kelsey when we take time to appreciate their unique contributions to society.''
At first, Sue Minick wasn't all that keen about Kelsey acting in the movie.
''I really didn't want to do it, but I left it up to her,'' she explained. ''It started out that Kelsey was going to have just a small part in the film. And then they just . . . kept giving her another scene, another scene and another scene.''
But perhaps what convinced Sue Minick most was Johanyak.
''Debbie is the most patient and wonderful person you could ever meet,'' Sue Minick said. ''And she always had Kelsey's well-being in mind.''
The movie opens with a scene of Kelsey's birth in a Russian farmhouse, filmed in Portage County. Russian-speaking actors chat about why the mother is unable to afford to keep the baby.
A scene shows an American couple (the Minicks' oldest son, Chris, playing the husband) arriving in Russia to adopt the little girl, followed by tension between the couple and the abuse.
A secondary story line depicts a tough young woman, Melissa, playing basketball for a private school. That's where, in fiction, Kelsey and Melissa meet and encourage each other.
''Kelsey is an amazing actor!'' said Johanyak, who has written five screenplays and is the author of three books. ''She memorizes quickly and accurately, and does exactly as coached. She comes across as realistic and charismatic, and is a true joy and professional to work with.''
That's a great endorsement for the child, who aspires to be an actress. If given the opportunity, Kelsey said she would rather play a princess in a Disney-type film than a main character in a horror flick. Though she said, with a giggle, she would settle for a bit part in a scary movie.
In the movie, the Minicks, whose names are changed in the film, are shown with one other child. In real life, the couple has three adult biological children and six adopted kids with special needs. Everyone in the family played a role, whether it was a speaking part or as an extra. Even Sue Minick, who generally shies away from publicity, is shown briefly in a courtroom scene.
''The Minick family is a wonderful group of people,'' Johanyak said.
Nearly 200 area people and organizations volunteered their time, talents and locations to make More Than Chance, a Mogadore Films production. Local landmarks are clearly visible during the movie.
Even the Goodyear blimp makes an appearance. Those who know Kelsey's story might recall that over the years, she has insisted that she arrived in America aboard the blimp — a declaration that earned her a ride.
Johanyak said she is hopeful that the film will be shown again locally and beyond.
''It depends, in part, on the response it gets at the Civic Theatre,'' she said. ''We hope it inspires and uplifts people as much as it has done us while making the film.''
What: More Than Chance premiere
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday Where: Akron Civic Theatre, 182 S. Main St., Akron
Tickets: $12, available at the door. Parking is free.
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or email@example.com.