Hi! My name’s Sayuri Kanowake, and I’m part Japanese. I was born in and live in Texas and I’m seventeen. I am a stroke survivor- more specifically, a prenatal stroke survivor. As a result, I was born paralyzed on my left side and was blind for almost 3 years. I’ve gone through almost every kind of therapy you can imagine- speech, play, physical, occupational, food, etc., and was even diagnosed with cerebral palsy when I was little. I had to have all the muscles cut off my eyes and have them reattached to put my brain in alignment with my eyes so I could see. My mom spent many years of sleepless nights, doctor and therapy appointments, and her own home therapy to help me.
I was bullied all the time because of my “clumsiness” and memory issues, not to mention the fact that hearing things wrong all the time is super weird, right? Girls would roll their eyes when I couldn’t pick up a PE sport very well, or if I couldn’t match up with their movements as fast. So for a really long time, my confidence was terrible and my mom called me her “Japanese Wallflower”. I became so shy and self-conscious that it was ridiculous! I couldn’t keep eye contact – partially because of my stroke and being blind for almost 3 years, but partially because of how low I felt being embarrassed all the time- and I spoke so hardly anyone could hear me.
Then, one day, I decided I wanted to learn to walk with confidence. I realized that sitting in a shell and being scared all the time was doing nothing for me. So, I started with community service pageants, and then went up from there to doing paid headshots and TFP (Trade For Profit) shoots and local runways for fun. I felt beautiful and happy with myself, and it was a total transformation! A transformation that brought about courage. Courage to participate in things I was scared to do such as: make friends, volunteer for community service, compete in pageants, and take dance lessons! Unfortunately, it also lost me people whom I considered friends. The truth was, when I started speaking up and and becoming more successful, those who secretly enjoyed feeling like I was beneath them began to leave my life. At first it was sad and then it was amazing and filled me with freedom to be myself!
But it hasn’t been an easy path. Learning to do a cartwheel took me seven months, a handstand took a year, and this was with private lessons. It got a little embarrassing to be fifteen and told to “sit on your spot” while the moms behind glass windows laughed at me, because their child was six and could do a handspring. But I refused to give up, and I kept working. I got coaches to teach me to walk and we all laughed when I fell—which was a lot!
On the other hand, this motivation made modeling an even bigger comfort and safe place. I started studying poses from magazines and wowing over the shots in Vogue. I would daydream about twirling around in those beautiful Sherri Hill, Mac Duggal and Jovani (some of my favorite designers) dresses and modeling for Editorials and Street Fashion. It isn’t about feeling “pretty”, despite what some may say. To me, it’s about bringing art to life, working hard to become a more capable version of myself, and having somewhere that I don’t have to be as good in group sports, because I’m loved for myself. I can just slow down, breathe, and focus on one thing at a time.
In about five years, I hope to have furthered my career so that I can model all of those things I day dreamed about, either in magazines, or on a runway, and maybe publish some fiction books along the way! I hope to empower others with my story, continue to grow to be a braver and better person, and work as hard as I can. I hope to travel, make lots of friends, and rest in the certainty of God’s love and strength, for I wouldn’t be here, the way I am, without all the doors he’s opened for me, and the wonderful people he’s placed in my life.
My first photoshoot was with Kathy Whittaker Photography out of Austin, and she did such an amazing job and several shoots that when my fellow model, Sonja Liane asked Tim Bear of Modelemi to take a look at my photos, he contacted me right away! We set up a photoshoot, clicked instantly, and I had the time of my life, and it’s getting better every day! Tim Bear is such a wonderful and caring person, and he can really bring out things in you that you never thought you could do. It’s a real pleasure working with him.