Detroit 2020: South Lyon girl's zest for life inspires others

Posted at 9:55 PM, Apr 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-29 10:08:51-04

Make-A-Wish Kids are all inspiring and this year’s Walk for Wishes spokesperson is no different - but her story is unique.

Her name is Emily Lickman. The 11-year-old’s smile will probably grab you first. But her hugs are epic. She makes you feel right at home.

I first met this spunky fifth grader when taping the “Walk for Wishes” promo at  the Channel 7 studios.

And if I had to describe Emily in one statement, I’d say she is a ray of sunshine.


She lives in South Lyon with her parents Michelle and Phil and her little sister Sophia.

Emily’s mom says her daughter finds joy in things that aren’t typical for her age.

For example, she gave herself the nickname “Punky” because of her love for the 80s sitcom character Punky Brewster.

When her friends were dressing up as princesses for Halloween, she went as Little Orphan Annie because she’s a big fan of Broadway musicals.

And one of the people she looks up to most is not a celebrity or YouTube sensation. It’s Walt Disney because of his imagination.

“She’s just who she is, and she’s proud of it. And people really see her before they see the chair,” said her mother  Michelle.


Michelle says she and her husband were shocked and devastated when Emily was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 22 months of age. They moved back here from the east coast to be closer to Mott's Children’s Hospital.

Over the years, Emily has had several major surgeries and -- more recently -- numerous hospital stays to treat dehydration -- which is a rare component of cerebra palsy.

Those many days in the hospital qualified her to work with Make-A-Wish – a non-profit which grants wishes to children who are battling life-threatening conditions.

Her wish? To go to her favorite Florida theme park.  Can you guess?

Well, she already knows which character she wants to see first.

“Mary Poppins!” she shouted with a huge grin.

Her enthusiasm helps fuel her adventurous nature tackling ropes courses, playing Miracle League baseball, and even taking up the trombone!


Emily told me she tries to speak for people with disabilities.

“Because they can’t talk,” she explained.

I asked her how it feels being a voice for those who don’t have one. She replied, “Awesome.”

She's used to people staring and not sure what to make of her. 

"People don't understand me," she said. "Kids are, like, staring at me, like, 'Why are you in a wheelchair? Did you break a leg or something?' I'm, like, 'No. I have CP.' And they're, like, 'Okay.'"

“She wants to be able to communicate to other people that you can be disabled and still have a positive outlook and be productive in your own way. And she’s definitely going to do it in her own way,” said Michelle with a smile.

Over the years, Emily has gotten really involved with Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan - endearing herself to the students and staff.

"They stood for 24 hours!" she beamed.

Her mother is so proud of who she is and what she's accomplished. 

“She makes everyone feel very comfortable about the disability. You know, she uses the word cerebral palsy all the time and the word disabled. Sophia does. We do in our house. It’s just no different than saying I have 2 legs to [Emily]. Which is I think a part of her personality. And she’s made everyone around her feel comfortable enough for people to see her," said Michelle.


People rarely see Emily's spirits fall. But hours and hours of physical therapy after school can be grueling.

This year she pushed through because she was driven by a singular goal.

“That she was going to be able to walk out to the wood chips and get onto the swings. You know, outside of the wheelchair,” explained her Mom.

But recently her fifth grade dream started fading.

"I couldn't get to go on the playground because they have wood chips, and my wheelchair can't go on it," explained Emily.

Her mother will never forget it. 

“She came home one day and said, ‘I was staring at the swings, and I realized that I worked this hard and I didn’t get there,’” recalled Michelle noting the sadness in her daughter’s voice.

There was not much Michelle could think to say at the time. 

“You know we kind of lived in that moment,” she recalled solemnly.

But there was an unexpected twist to the story.

“All of a sudden [Emily] was like, ‘Okay. I’m over it.’ And [she] went away and started putting on a Broadway tune and started dancing in her wheelchair!” Michelle said with a huge smile. 

And, boy, does Emily dance! Complete with wheelies and spins!

Because she lives life to the fullest and shares her joy with others, Emily “Punky” Lickman is this week’s Detroit 2020 Person of the Week.


19th Annual Walk for Wishes
  Saturday, May 6th
  Detroit Zoo
  8:00am Check-in
  9:00am Walk

We hope you’ll join Emily, her family, me and thousands of other walkers for the 19th Annual Make-A-Wish-Michigan Walk For Wishes.

WXYZ- TVChannel 7 is a proud media partner for this event.

I’m honored to be the emcee for the ceremonies that day. We’d love to see you!

So, Mark your calendars. It’s Saturday, May 6, 2017 at the Detroit Zoo.

Proceeds help fund future wishes for kids fighting life-threatening illnesses.