South Surrey teen model Annika Van Vliet is no stranger to the spotlight, and it’s about to get a whole lot brighter.
At 15, Annika has posed for numerous photo shoots, given television interviews and walked fashion-week runways in both Vancouver and Toronto – activities she only began dipping her toe into about a year ago.
On Saturday (Sept. 9), she’ll shine in the Big Apple, with her photo among 500 to be featured in a jumbotron video presentation in New York’s Times Square launching the 2023 Buddy Walk, an annual event to raise awareness for Down syndrome in the U.S.
But Annika’s brightest moment so far is yet to come, and one many aspiring models can only dream of: walking the runway for Paris Fashion Week.
The prestigious affair’s autumn/winter edition is set for Sept. 25 to Oct. 2, with Annika’s moment on the runway at Le Bristol Paris hotel to come on Oct. 1.
Walking with La Belle magazine – a publication, according to labellkidz.com, “for the trendsetting and style-savvy child” – she’s been training for the experience since first learning she’d been chosen for it a couple of months ago.
She doesn’t yet know what she’ll be wearing, but when it comes to what’s expected of her, she knows to look straight ahead, do “the walk” and pause for a three-second pose in either direction when she reaches the runway’s end before walking back.
While full of shy giggles and blushing during a FaceTime chat with Peace Arch News Thursday (Sept. 7), Annika comes into her own in front of a camera, her mom said. Her Instagram page (@annika.jillian) is bursting with examples.
“People her whole life have told me, ‘you gotta get her into modelling,’” said Lisa, in explaining her daughter’s path to the jumbotron and Paris. “She was always a poser… always been very photogenic and very, like, a ham, so I just threw her in the (modelling) shows.”
Annika, who started Grade 10 at St. John Paul II Academy this week, broke into modelling after being discovered during a June 2022 Glam-Z gala. Approached by three agencies, she ultimately signed on with Kello Inclusive, an Edmonton-based “disability-focused talent and media company,” and her interest hasn’t wavered, her mom said.
“This kid has been working non-stop ever since,” said Lisa.
“She’s 15 and she’s just killin’ it.”
Lisa said she and her husband Troy had plenty of time to prepare for the joys and challenges that come with raising a child born with Down syndrome – Annika was diagnosed in-utero, at just 15 weeks into Lisa’s pregnancy.
They did “tons” of therapy with her from the moment she was born and “always push her to be her best.”
“We’ve never subscribed to the ‘can’t,’” said Lisa.
Annika, she noted, knows she has Down syndrome, but doesn’t let it hold her back. In addition to her modelling, she is currently ambassador for both Canadian Down Syndrome Society and the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation.
Saturday’s Buddy Walk presentation is to air live from 9:30-10:30 a.m. EST on the National Down Syndrome Society Facebook page. Annika’s photo is scheduled to appear between 10:20-10:30 a.m. EST (7:20-7:30 a.m. local time).