Teen queen

Henrico girl uses her platform to encourage asthma awareness
Niasia Ellis made asthma awareness her platform in the Miss Virginia Teen Essence competition, which she won earlier this year.
On the surface, it appears as if Niasia Ellis is a typical teenager. She is a rising sophomore at a high school in Richmond, is involved in athletics at school and programs at her church and loves making new friends.

A deeper look, however, reveals that she is anything but typical.

Ellis attends Open High School, an alternative public high school in the city of Richmond that emphasizes community service, college-level coursework and student self-governance. She plays not one sport but six – basketball, track and field, swimming, gymnastics, tennis and cheerleading – and has been rock climbing, rappelling, zip-lining, canoeing and kayaking. She participates with the Mime Ministry and is a soprano member of the youth choir at Saint Paul’s Baptist Church, but still finds time to spend with friends and family.

Earlier this year, Ellis was crowned Miss Virginia Teen Essence. And recently,as part of the Chickahominy YMCA Leader’s Club (which teaches teenagers how to better serve their community), Ellis attended the Blue Ridge Leaders School, a week-long school that focuses on physical fitness and helps students build and form stronger leadership skills.

Although Ellis has only been part of the Leader’s Club for three short months, she has already positively affected the group, Chickahominy YMCA Teen Director Adam Burgess said.

“She has made a huge impression, as far as her input and relationship-building skills with the rest of the team is concerned,” he said. “She brings in a positive energy filled with laughter and a higher standard for academics and physical fitness. She is a blessing to our group and we have enjoyed her passion for the club and what it stands for.”

Considering that she is so involved in athletics, it may be surprising to some that Ellis has suffered from asthma since being diagnosed at the age of four. But by taking preventative measures and learning exactly what triggers an attack,she’s been able to achieve her athletic and personal goals despite the affliction, said her mother, Ayasha Sledge.

“She is committed to making sure other young people who suffer from this condition know that they do not have to live in constant fear of having an attack or limit their goals due to asthma,”Sledge said.

Because of this, Ellis’ platform that contributed to her Miss Virginia Teen Essence title was asthma awareness, and her motto was “You Can L.I.V.E. (Lead, Inspire, [be] Victorious and Empower) with Asthma.”

Ellis explained that the Essence Pageant is different from others because it helps women build confidence and self-esteem and has no restrictions on age or size.

“I feel my platform picked me, I didn’t pick it,” she said. “I wanted others to know that you can not only live with asthma,but you can have a life. Asthma has made me a stronger person. It is something I can’t get rid of, so I might as well make the best of it. I have suffered from it for as long as I can remember, and I wasn’t going to let asthma hold me back.”

Developing young leaders
At the Blue Ridge Leader’s School, Ellis and other participants began their days at 5 a.m.,when they rose to watch the sun rise over the mountains, and later attended daily 90-minute classes about character development.

“You find out who you really are, learn the components of being a leader and how you should become a role model,” she said.

After lunch came aquatics, during which she completed five out of the six levels, and gymnastics, in which she got three stars out of the six components.

She also had to take a health and fitness class and a midterm and final exam in every class.

“We had really long days packed with different things,” she said, “but I made a whole lot of friends. I connected with all of them and I would love to go again because it was not like a regular school. This was a school where everybody gets along and everybody knows each other. I would recommend it to anyone.”

The school, established in 1922,welcomes 750 students between the ages of 13 and 18 from all over the world each year.

Attendees must have accomplished a variety of club activities, earned a GPA of 3.0 or higher and passed a physical fitness test.

Sledge said that she could not be more proud of her daughter. “She is an awesome young lady,” she said. “She is always willing to try new things and take a chance. I admire her for not having any fears. She is very involved with her church, she sings with the choir, she is part of the Black Achievers Club, she loves to take pictures and is so fun-loving. We truly are blessed.”

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