Marlana VanHoose may not be able to see, but all eyes were on her as she sang the national anthem at the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Monday.
Born with Cytomegalovirus, a virus that left her blind and with cerebral palsy, Kentucky native VanHoose is no stranger to major performances. She gained national attention after her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a University of Kentucky basketball game went viral in 2012.
Despite the fact that neither of VanHoose’s parents have a musical background, the aspiring singer took up music at a very young age.
“I started humming ‘Jesus Loves Me’ before I could talk,” VanHoose, 19, told The Daily Signal.
A devout Christian, VanHoose began playing the piano at around age two, churning out renditions of songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on a tiny toy keyboard. Today, she specializes in singing and playing Gospel music.
VanHoose credits God with giving her the strength and courage to sing in front of such broad audiences. She calls God “her first role model,” but says that her mother is her “earthly role model.”
“[‘The Star-Spangled Banner’] is one of my favorite songs,” VanHoose said. “The fourth verse of the anthem is my favorite verse, because it talks about God the Creator.”
VanHoose, who graduated from high school one year ago, says that by this point, she has done “too many [performances of the anthem] to count.”
This week alone, VanHoose performed six times. Last month, she sang at the packed Game 6 of the National Basketball Association finals.
VanHoose’s mother, Teresa, says she is particularly proud of how her daughter handles the spotlight. Teresa VanHoose recently resigned from her 13-year-long stint as a special education teacher to have more free time to travel with her daughter. She plans to continue working as an independent education provider for children with disabilities.
“Her dad and I really have never focused on her disabilities but on her abilities, and she does the same,” Teresa told The Daily Signal of her daughter, who she says they treat no differently than their 16-year-old, football-playing son. “We have treated her as normally as we can.”
Recently, Marlana’s performances allowed her to take her first airplane ride. She also enjoys biking and going to the movies.
Despite her success and relative normalcy, VanHoose has also experienced health issues including adrenal insufficiency, scoliosis, and a short stature as a result of her disabilities.
“You go through several emotions from why me, depression, anger, and acceptance,” Teresa said of the experience of having a child born with a disability. “But you realize that God gave you this child for a reason. We want Marlana to experience what any other child experiences. We will continue to let her experience life as any other person experiences it.”
VanHoose has never let her disability hold her back, and has no intention of slowing down. She hopes to continue performing and, one day, sign a major record deal, sing on a Disney television show or movie, and do voiceover work, all the while living out her favorite Bible verse, as stated in the King James Version, Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”