Teen going after dream

August 04, 2003 11:00 pm

By SUNNY LOCKWOOD

Bret Harte High School junior Alice Diehl dreams of a theatrical career.

The 4-foot, 10-inch brunette has been in school plays and community theater since she was a student at Avery Middle School.

"I've loved drama since I was 5," she said, sitting in the living room of her Arnold home. "I love being in front of people, making them laugh, feeling the emotions."

Her blue eyes sparkle and her hands fly as she talks about acting.

"TV and film is (quite) competitive," she said. "I love the stage — the instant gratification — but most stages are inaccessible."

Accessibility is vital for the enthusiastic 16-year-old, who gets around in a bright orange wheelchair.

The younger of two daughters born to Anne and Bill Diehl, she was three months premature and has cerebral palsy, a condition that affects one's ability to control body movements. In Diehl's case, CP has affected her lower body, and she cannot walk independently.

Although cerebral palsy is not a degenerative disease, symptoms can change as the body changes. Diehl has had surgery to help lengthen her leg muscles.

"At one time she was walking with crutches, but the muscles tightened and caused her to begin bending over," her mother said. The operations have helped her stand up straighter, but she needs a walker or wheelchair to get around.

Exchanging foot power for wheels has not slowed the energetic teenager.

Last month, she was one of 53 high school students chosen to attend a five-day Youth Leadership Forum in Sacramento designed to help high achievers with disabilities reach their potential.

The week was filled with motivational speakers, workshops and group sessions that help young people learn what is available after they graduate from high school.

Bret Harte High Assistant Principal Matt Strahl encouraged Diehl to apply for the forum.