Patricia Beard was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency, a non-hereditary disease that left one leg shorter than the other. Before her first birthday, doctors amputated her left leg.
Now 18, Beard is one of five freshman cheerleaders at the University of Arkansas, recognizable on the field for her flawless moves, big smile and zebra-print prosthetic leg.
"I've always dreamed of this," Beard told FWAA, "but never thought I'd be here doing what I've always wanted to do. I can't even put into words how exciting and amazing this year has been already."
Earlier this month, the Football Writers Association of America nominated Beard for their Discover Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award, an award that celebrates displays of courage on or off the field, "including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship." The winner will be announced in December.
Beard has cheered competitively since the seventh grade, nailing technical elements without any special treatment from teammates or coaches.
"She's Patience," Jean Nail, director of spirit squads at the university, told MSNBC. "She's a member of the squad. We expect the same from her that we expect of everyone else. No more, no less."
Beard credits her parents with "giving me my drive" and instilling confidence in her:
"They've always pushed me to do the best I can do and never let me give excuses ever," Beard said.
The communications student hopes to become a motivational speaker in the future, inspiring others with her story.
"Everyone goes through obstacles," she said. "The people who feel good about themselves are the ones who go for their dreams."