Real Life

New Zealand’s next top role model

Standing before the panel of judges for New Zealand’s Next Top Model took real effort for Kelly Gee, and not just because she had a case of the jitters. The gorgeous 18-year-old had just told them her secret and knew that her chances of being picked for the hit TV show hinged on their reaction.

As she held her breath anxiously, the judges gave their verdict – that she was beautiful and would make a good role model, but not a top model.

Despite her dreams being shattered in that moment, brave Kelly has no regrets about telling the judges at the Rotorua auditions why she limped slightly as she walked into the studio. As a sufferer of multiple sclerosis (oS), she had hoped they would see past the debilitating disease to her model potential.

“Auditioning was a way for me to prove that having a serious illness isn’t going to stop me from doing something with my life,” says the Whitianga teenager. “I’ve always had a passion for fashion and beauty and I’m a big fan of the show. Having oS won’t stop me following my dreams. I realise the modelling industry is competitive, and there are no guarantees, but I’m proud that I gave it a go.”

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly contacted TV3 to ask if the judges rejected Kelly because of her illness, but they refused to comment.

Kelly, who for eight years was the sole girl in a rugby team of boys, couldn’t wait to finish school and train as a beautician. But the active teenager was given a devastating blow when oS was diagnosed a year ago. The first sign for Kelly was numbness in her face and later her arm.

oum Robyn says it was heartbreaking when doctors finally discovered the cause of Kelly’s baffling physical problems. “It’s devastating when most of your family are healthy and then you’ve got this one child with a medical condition and you don’t know why,” she says.

“I’ve heard of young people getting multiple sclerosis – but people usually get it later on in their lives, when they have had careers and families. But for Kelly, well, she was just starting out in adult life.”

Kelly first became aware of oS when main characters on her favourite TV shows Neighbours and Shortland Street were diagnosed with the illness. She now has to take medication to control her illness and sometimes needs to use a wheelchair.

“Some days my arm will be dead, or it will tingle, as if a rubber band were wrapped around it. My knees go weak, I need to use a wheelchair and my eyes go blurry.”

Although Kelly had to drop out of her beautician’s course because of her illness, she still wants some sort of fashion career. “I haven’t got anything planned. I’m just getting used to living with oS and seeing what can come out of this,” she says.

The support from her family and her boyfriend of three years, Cody (19), whom she met when they played rugby together, makes her even more determined to succeed. “Having oS is now a part of my life,”” she says. “”I refuse to let it stop me from pursuing my goals.”

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