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Let’s get this straight: A young lady born in Honduras meets a hip-hop dancer from Belarus on the way to Washington, D.C. They’re joined by a pilot who dreams of being a stand-up comedian, a deer hunter who plans to go to medical school, and a karate instructor. Rounding out their group are a pianist, a violinist, a mariachi singer and a concert promoter for Ozzy Osbourne. And let’s not forget the rock climber, the water skiier, the model, the grandmother, the teen who was almost a Marine and — whew! — the one who’s gone from working on cars to drafting to electrical engineering.

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Yet the national officers who came to D.C. a very diverse group went home, after their training, a solid team and friends for life.

By E. Thomas Hall

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Julia Abramova
a.k.a. “the Hip-Hop Dancer from Belarus”
Cooperative education, Kempsville High School, Virginia Beach, Va.
Julia immigrated from Chernobyl with her parents when she was 4. She speaks Russian and French and hopes to be an interpreter in economics and foreign relations. She’s studied dance for eight years.

Raymond Ramsey
a.k.a. “the Pianist”
Drafting, Dothan (Ala.) Technology Center
Raymond, who’s played the piano since age 9, missed a university music camp to run for office. He’ll go to a music college or a school where he can study music and drafting.

Craig White
a.k.a. “the Karate Instructor”
Heating/ventilation/air con-ditioning, Bethlehem (Pa.) Area Vocational-Technical School
Craig has 11 years of karate under his second-degree black belt. He turned 16 while in Washington for officer training and was going to get his driver’s permit as soon as he got home.

Kimberlyn Benitez
a.k.a. “Lady from Honduras”
Cosmetology, McKinney (Texas) High School
At age 3, Kimberlyn came here from Central America. She’ll work in a salon while earning a college degree in political science and international business. Her goals? Texas’ House of Representatives or education department.

Melanie Johnson
a.k.a. “the Violinist”
Criminal justice, Townview Law Magnet, Dallas
She’s played the violin for seven years but says she’ll major in political science and public administration. Why not a criminal justice career? Melanie says she’s “too nice” — when learning to handcuff a suspect, she couldn’t help saying “please.”

Ed Soto
a.k.a. “the Model”
Computer technology, Davies Career and Technical High School, Lincoln, R.I.
Ed has a full scholarship through SkillsUSA to Johnson and Wales University, where he’s studying international business. He’s modeled clothing for Aeropostale and marketing executives.

J.D. Hunt
a.k.a. “the Deer Hunter”
Health care science technology, Harris County High School, Hamilton, Ga.
J.D. plans to go to medical school after college. For now, he spends his spare time deer hunting and coaching a little league baseball team.

Mandy Vincent
a.k.a. “Almost a Marine”
Drafting, Muskingum-Perry Career Center, Zanesville, Ohio
Mandy was in the Marines’ delayed entry program before switching to computer-assisted drafting at her career center. She hopes to teach kids with emotional problems like those she met while in foster care from age 7-12.

Matthew Tiner
a.k.a. “the Skiier”
Telecommunications, Central Oklahoma Area Vocational-Technical School, Drumright, Okla.
He’s worked at an auto service shop since he was 12, and in his spare time Matthew loves to water ski. He plans to study electronic engineering in college.

Carrie O’Grady
a.k.a. “From Cars to Drafting to Electrical Engineering”
Industrial Cooperative Education, Mesa (Ariz.) High School
Carrie started out studying automotive service technology, then moved into drafting. Now she’s looking into electrical engineering for when she enters college.


Carl Wetzler
a.k.a. “the Pilot/Comic”
Aviation maintenance, Tulsa (Okla.) Technology Center, Riverside Campus
A licensed pilot for three years, Carl is studying about how aircraft work in hopes of flying for a major airline. He’s also honed his stand-up comedy routine at a local theater.

Natalia Guerra
a.k.a. “the Mariachi Singer”
Auto mechanics, South Texas Community College, McAllen
Natalia, who also attends the University of Texas—Pan American, plans to be an international business executive. She learned to speak Spanish and English at the same time and likes to sing in Spanish at parties.

Zach Emerson
a.k.a. “Band Promoter”
Computer technology, Burton Technology Center, Salem, Va.
Zach, who’s in a band and plays at least six instruments, runs a promotions group and has worked for Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Zombie.

Aaron Bodell
a.k.a. “the Rock Climber”
Graphic communications/advertising, Dixie State College, St. George, Utah
Aaron works for a major publishing firm and hopes to own a
national chain of print shops. He
enjoys rock climbing in the desert.

Gina Perez
a.k.a. “Grandmother”
Medical assisting, Columbus (Ga.) Technical College
Gina had a successful retail career when her mother and grandmother fell ill. Caring for them led to her medical training. She started her SkillsUSA chapter last year and now works for her college as a recruiter.

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SkillsUSA Champions | Fall 2002 | Volume 37, No. 1
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