by Beth Connolly

Vanessa Muff isn’t your typical 16-year-old.  Yes, her schedule is chock-full of typical high school activities like dance lessons, rugby and volleyball practice, and homework, but she also dedicates hours upon hours to volunteer service each month (300 just since she started high school!) for organizations as diverse as the Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Sunshine Foundation, for which she is spokesperson and chair.  “I enjoy helping people,” she said in a recent phone interview.  “You get a good feeling when you give to others.  I’ve been volunteering since the age of nine, and it’s made a difference in my life.”

And there’s something else that makes this Toronto teen unusual—she will be representing Canada at the Miss Teen International pageant in Chicago on July 28, 2011, with volunteerism as her platform.  She has been doing beauty pageants since she was six years old, but she is not your typical pageant candidate either: she proudly admitted that she was the captain of an all-male football team a few years ago, when she was in middle school.

“What?”  I was speechless.

“I’m the girliest tomboy you’ll ever meet,” she replied.  When I asked for more details, Vanessa explained, “I had never played football before, and I really like trying new things.  It turned out I was good at it, so I became captain.  The other guys on the team were cool with it, and if anything, it was a good advantage for us.  I was intimidated and nervous at first, but I got used to it.”

Vanessa has never let nervousness stop her from doing something that she really wants to do.  That’s why she eagerly anticipates running in and volunteering at the Toronto Spartan Sprint on June 19, 2011, even though it is a different sort of volunteer event than what she usually does. “Usually when I go to volunteer events it’s not that physically demanding,” she said.  “[But] this is right up my alley, I’m totally pumped.”  An athletic, active person already, Vanessa said that she does not have to change her fitness routine in order to train for the race.

And I doubt she would have time to.  Despite her numerous extracurricular commitments, when I asked Vanessa how she manages her time, she was down-to-earth and centered.  Even though she’s busy and often on the go, she said, “I know I have to keep my priorities straight, and stay on the honor roll.”  Vanessa dreams of going to a teacher’s college and becoming a high school science teacher.  In that position, she could also coach high school sports teams.  “It would be everything I love to do all in one job—basically reliving what I’m living now,” she said with a laugh.

She’s off to a good start—her original “20-element rap,” created with her best friend, became a quick hit on youtube.  But the notoriety didn’t really excite Vanessa.  What excited her was scrolling down to read the comments viewers had left beneath the video.  “The video really helped kids remember the elements!”

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