Bates College sophomore McKayla Kendall talks about overcoming appearance issues related to her cleft lip and her passion for sports. Submitted photo

McKayla Kendall has had to overcome many obstacles related to her appearance since being born with a cleft lip. While she was able to get the care she needed to correct her cleft lip, she still bears some facial abnormalities. Getting those procedures also prevented her from playing some of her favorite sports at times.

From learning to accept her crooked nose at a young age to exploring her passion for sports, the 18-year-old Bangor native has proven resilient while facing an appearance issue that others struggle with their whole lives.

What types of struggles did you face as a child with a cleft lip?

My biggest struggles surrounding my cleft have always been self-imposed — relating to my appearance. I’ve had to break the habit of fixating on the aspects of my cleft that I felt kept me from looking “normal.” At this point in my life, I’ve learned to be proud of my smile but that’s taken a long time to learn, and it’s easy to fall back into old habits and insecurities.

I would say that my cleft also impacted my social life but not in the way you may think. I was extremely fortunate to have access to the care that is necessary for people with clefts but that meant that I was missing out on things for procedures and surgeries. Sports have always been a vital part of my life, and being forced to stand on the sidelines was never fun.

Were you ever treated differently?


Aside from curious kids asking if my nose is crooked because I was punched in the face, my cleft didn’t really affect how I was treated. I owe this to Dr. Joseph Napoli at the A.I. Dupont Hospital in Delaware. He did both my initial reparative procedures and my bone graft in 2014.

When did you start advocating for others born with the same issue?

My initial interest in advocating for other kids affected by cleft lip and palate started in fifth grade when my teacher gave me a copy of the book “Wonder.” I always ignored my cleft because I didn’t want to think about it. It was eye opening for my 11-year-old self to realize that there are people out there who share similar experiences and that there are so many people who don’t have access to the proper care required for cleft lip and palate.

That was around the time I came across a nonprofit organization that works in about 70 countries around the world to provide essential comprehensive care for children born with clefts. Since then, I’ve worked with Smile Train as one of its student ambassadors alongside hundreds of other high schoolers who worked to raise money and spread awareness. I’ve spoken at a few different conferences about my experiences and why it’s important to advocate.

I think it’s important for everyone to get involved in something they’re passionate about. Sometimes my work seems so trivial and inconsequential, but my personal goal is to show people with clefts around the world that they aren’t alone. It’s much easier to embrace your cleft when you can accept it as a part of who you are, but it takes support, community and time to get there.

When you were looking at colleges, what was attractive about Bates?


When I first looked at colleges, I was determined to get out of Maine. Still, Bates was always in the back of my mind. I love the liberal arts aspect of the school and the balance of challenging academics and Division III athletics. Because of the small size of the school, I’ve been able to meet so many incredible people and introduce them all to my home state.

Have sports been a good outlet for you?

I’ve always been an active person, and my parents threw me into a ton of different sports and activities when I was younger. I’ve played soccer since I was 5, but swimming was the first sport that really clicked. While my 8-year-old self was just happy to win trophies, I’ve made so many memories and have met so many amazing people from around the country through swimming. When I got to high school, I continued with soccer and swimming, and I joined the lacrosse team during the spring season.

Which sports are your favorite?

Although most of my time has always been spent in the pool, I found a special love for lacrosse in high school. I’ve continued to play in college by joining the club team at Bates. I also discovered Cold Front, Bates’ women’s, non-binary and gender non-conforming ultimate frisbee team. Ultimate frisbee is definitely up there on my list of favorite sports.

Are there any life lessons that you’ve taken away from playing sports?

I’ve learned how to be a teammate and a leader. I’ve learned to treat success with humility and to experience defeat with dignity. I’ve also learned that hard work goes a long way, but there are other steps that we must take as athletes to be successful. There were times when I had to reset and focus on the fun of my sport rather than my performance. I had to balance homework, practices and life in general rather than working myself into the ground. I also had to take time to recognize that I’m more than just an athlete. I think that my advocation and other involvements helped me do so.

Comments are not available on this story.