Ana Younker-Zimmerman was born without arms, but that hasn’t stopped her in the classroom or on the job.
Using her toes and the edges of her feet, she quickly folds and tears apart tickets for use in lesson plans, and then wraps a rubber band around them — twice.
“She does her thing so nonchalantly,” said Shannon Schubert, who as a work coordinator for Focus Beyond Transition Services arranged Younker-Zimmerman’s part-time job at Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest. “If I had no arms, I’d make a production of it.”
A graduate of St. Paul’s Humboldt High School, Younker-Zimmerman, 19, excelled in adapted sports, as well. So when the word went out recently that the Minnesota Twins wanted an inspirational athlete to throw out the first pitch on April 26, she got the call.
The feat was made possible because the ball in adapted softball actually is a whiffle ball, which she can flick with her foot. She has pitched before, too. As for her Twins performance, she wishes she had gotten more arc on the ball. But then she was pretty nervous.
Late, too. She said that she and her boyfriend, and her parents, Sarah Zimmerman and Kelly Younker, circled Target Field 10 times before they found the correct entrance.
Her invitation to deliver the opening pitch at a Twins game was not the first time she’s been recognized for her talents.
Last year, Younker-Zimmerman was one of 43 female athletes honored by the St. Paul Area Athena Awards — and the only one to play adapted sports. The awards are given to outstanding female high school senior student-athletes in and around St. Paul. She earned nearly a 4.0 grade-point average, she said, and when asked about her favorite subjects, replied: “History. Math. Not science.”
She would like to continue playing sports, she said. The Special Olympics would be cool. But she also is busy preparing for the next stage in her life.
Younker-Zimmerman was born in Haiti and adopted and brought to the United States when she was 3.
Of her time as a little girl, she said, “I don’t remember. I don’t talk about it much.”
She’s had anger and mental health problems, but says she enjoyed her years at Humboldt, thanks in large part to her discovery of adapted sports. Soccer was her favorite, she said. She bowled, too, primarily by sitting and propelling the ball outward with her feet. But she stood at times, too.
“When you want a higher score, you gotta do what you gotta do,” she said. “So I did both.”
Younker-Zimmerman walked with her senior class during last year’s graduation ceremony, but still has some work to do to earn her diploma from Focus Beyond. The program is part of St. Paul Public Schools and promotes lifelong learning for young adults with disabilities.
“I have lots of friends there,” she said last week during a break from her job at Junior Achievement. “Plus I work on my anger. When things don’t go your way, you can look past it or think on the bright side.”
She plans to be at Focus Beyond for another year and then, hopefully, attend St. Paul College and St. Catherine University.
Her goal is to become a mental health therapist.
On Thursdays and Fridays, in the meantime, she continues to amaze at Junior Achievement, working alongside a few classmates as they fill lesson kits with items like flash cards, game pieces, toys and stickers.
She prefers the task of folding and tearing tickets because she finds it calming.
And at lunch, she keeps her feet busy by cross-stitching, too.