Stettler Student Overcomes Personal Battle to Compete in Hairstyling Competition

Melissa Smith is a grade 12 student at William E. Hay Settler Secondary Campus. Like many other high school students in the Province, she plans to take part in her regional Skills Canada Competition this year, with the hopes of reaching the Provincial Skills Canada Competition. What sets Melissa apart is the journey she has had to get to this point.

In 2017, Melissa competed in Hairstyling Junior at the Central Regional Skills Canada Competition (RSCC) in Red Deer. In grade 10 at the time, Melissa says she was both excited and nervous to take part, and that she did not know what to expect. One thing she did know, however, was how much she enjoyed hairstyling.

Melissa practices styling on her mannequin in class at William E. Hay Settler Secondary Campus

“I’ve been styling hair since I was 6 years old,” explains Melissa. “It’s just something I’ve always been interested in. So as soon as I was old enough to compete, Mrs. Kneeland-Teasdale invited me to be a part of the competition.”

Melissa says she was very satisfied with her result and was proud of what she accomplished at her first competition. “As I was leaving I thought to myself – now next year I won’t be as scared, next year I’ll know what to work on to prepare. I just couldn’t wait to come back the next year.”

In the weeks leading up to the competition, Melissa had been experiencing pain in her leg and ankle, which she attributed to a slip on the ice. Shortly after the Central RSCC, Melissa noticed a large lump on her leg. Her parents took her to the Emergency Room, and within 48 hours Melissa was diagnosed with bone cancer in her leg.

Melissa began chemotherapy and other treatments, which she describes as very draining. “I felt like I’d lost my personality, my hobbies, everything.” Melissa continued treatment for many months, with her last chemotherapy treatment taking place right before the second semester of the 2018 school year kicked off.

“I was starting to want to do things again. And one of those things was cosmetology. So, Mrs. Kneeland-Teasdale gave me mannequins to work on, so I could sort of follow along with the class. I started practicing and formulating a new hairstyle for the 2018 Regional Competition.”

Melissa with Cosmetology teacher, Alicia Kneeland-Teasdale.

Alicia Kneeland-Teasdale, Melissa’s Cosmetology teacher, remembers a day when she went to visit Melissa in the hospital and found her practicing her Regional Competition hairstyle in her bed. Melissa had thought she would be back in school in time to take part in the Central Regional Competition that year. However, some complications with her recovery prevented her from competing.

“I was really hoping to compete in 2018. But I decided that as much as I wanted to compete, I really needed to focus on getting better before I could do anything else.”

Melissa is now cancer-free and hopes to take part in the 2019 Hairstyling Intermediate Competition in Red Deer later this year. Despite having missed some in-class teaching last year, Melissa is confident that the support of her teacher and peers will help her get to where she needs to be for the upcoming competition season.

“It’s really incredible how much support I’ve received from my teachers and my classmates. I have no doubts that I’ll be able to catch up and will be ready to compete this year. Mrs. Kneeland-Teasdale is the best, and I know she’ll work with me.”

When asked whether she would recommend competing in a Skills Canada Competition to other students her age, Melissa quickly replied “Absolutely! Just do it. I like being able to come up with my own style, to express myself that way, and then be able to show it off at the Regional Competition”.

When asked what her favourite part of taking students to competitions was, Alicia Kneeland-Teasdale said “watching them realize what they can do. Watching them see that they really do have talent and potential. I get to see that hit them, and it blows my mind.”

Melissa with Cosmetology class mates.

William E. Hay Settler Secondary Campus has taken part in Regional Hairstyling Competitions for 8 years, medaling in 3 of those years, and sending competitors to the Provincial Skills Canada Competition in 4 of those years. Melissa’s classmate Bethany Brown took home the gold medal in Hairstyling Intermediate at the 2018 Regional Competition in Red Deer.

When speaking with Melissa’s teacher and peers, it is clear how much of an inspiration and positive light she has been to those around her. She has handled her personal battle with strength and determination and looks to approach her next competition with the same attitude.

“I know what I need to do to step up, and I think I’m going to do even better this year.”