FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — To fully understand how Patience Beard has made a habit out of making the extraordinary seem normal is to know a little bit about her upbringing.

In particular, those first moments after she was born.

It was then that the determination was formed in Beard, whose zebra-printed prosthetic leg and platform as an Arkansas cheerleader have turned her into a celebrity for some, an inspiration for most.

Michelle Kelley, Beard's mother, was still in the delivery room when she was told by the doctor that her newborn's left leg was shorter than her right — a problem that could pose significant physical problems in the future. Rather than focus on the fear and unknown, Kelley cut straight to the point.

"So, her mind is OK?" Kelley asked.

"Yes, as far as we can tell," the doctor replied.

"Her heart's OK?" she asked.

"Yes," came the answer.

"Good," Kelly said. "We can work with that. To me, if that's as bad as it's going to get, we're going to be OK."

Beard, an 18-year-old native of Texarkana, Texas, has lived her entire life as normally as anyone else around her. She played T-ball, softball and took part in gymnastics while growing up — and that was just by the time she was 4-years-old.

"When people come up to me now and tell me how inspiring I am, it's kind of hard for me to grasp that thought," Beard said. "I'm just doing what I love to do; I'm just cheerleading. It's crazy to think that I'm such an inspiration to some people, because I'm just doing my everyday life."

Using Patience as a name was nothing but a joke to Kelley while she was pregnant with her daughter, namely because of her own lack of patience. That humor, however, turned serious once Beard was born and diagnosed, and Kelley realized just how much patience both mother and daughter would need at times.

Beard's shorter left leg was the result of a birth defect that affects the pelvis and hip bone. The diagnosis led to the amputation of her leg as an infant, though even that couldn't stop her from crawling and trying to keep up with her older brothers.

She doesn't remember having the lower part of her leg, but she does remember the nerves she felt while trying out for the 7th-grade cheerleading squad. Beard had taken part in gymnastics throughout elementary school, doing so while adapting to a number of prosthetic legs and battling a pair of hip surgeries related to her condition that left her immobilized and in a full-body cast for six weeks.

No amount of physical training, however, could prepare her to compete against 100 people for 35 spots on the cheerleading squad. Beard was so nervous, in fact, that she stood back while friends looked on the sheet in the gym window that listed those who made the team.

Her name was on there, just as it was every year after that throughout high school.

Not every moment was a fairy tale while growing up for Beard. For starters, the prosthetic hurt from time to time under the stress of her cheerleading, though she learned to manage the pain. A classmate once called her "a freak" because of the different fabrics that covered her leg.

"No, I'm special," Beard shot back.

She credits her family and a close group of friends for helping her stay strong and never setting limits for what she could accomplish.

"They knew I wasn't someone to bully because I accepted myself for who I was," Beard said.

The 5-foot-2 Beard has frequently replaced the fabric on the prosthetic — pink, one featured the popular "Rugrats" cartoon characters and a favorite, the "M&M" candy fabric she fought so hard for on eBay.

"People would always ask 'Why do you get these different colored legs?'" Kelley said. "Well, I don't care how good your technician is, you cannot get a leg that is going to look like a normal leg. So, why not have fun with it and just do something fun and go with it?"

It wasn't until Beard was in 9th grade that she went with the zebra print, an ode to the fashion of the day and a style she's settled on for the long haul.

It was the same print that first stood out to Jean Nail, Arkansas' spirit squad director, and cheer coach Kraig Jimenez while watching Beard's tryout DVD last spring. Jimenez didn't notice anything other than Beard's talent at first, only pausing to do a double-take once he saw the zebra stripes.

It was only then that he saw the metal rod above her left shoe.

Beard earned an invitation to an on-campus tryout, where she competed against 42 other girls for 14 spots on the Razorbacks cheerleading team. She wasn't given any special preference for her prosthetic leg — not that she'd ever expect any — and performed the same routine of stunts as everyone else.

Her tryout partner, Kevin Ellstrand, had heard about Beard from a friend in Texarkana before she arrived on campus. The senior came away impressed after practicing with Beard and then completing all of their tosses, flips and other stunts during the tryout. He said her prosthetic leg doesn't limit her or make performing any more difficult on him.

"I always use the example that everybody has a little bit different hand-writing," Ellstrand said. "So, everybody has their own style of stunting. To me, it's just another style of stunting that I need to adjust to."

Jimenez said Beard "left a lot of people in the dust" during the tryout, and that she was an easy selection for the team. The announcement left Beard in tears.

"I don't view her as any differently than any of the other freshmen or pretty much anyone else on the squad," Jimenez said. "She does everything everyone else does, just like anyone else. It really is amazing, and a lot of people with two perfectly good legs can't do what she does."

Her first official college football game was Arkansas' season-opener against Jacksonville State on Sept. 1.

During the game, season-ticket holder Brian Barchenger of Springdale, Ark., noticed Beard performing for the first time. Barchenger was at the time with his 5-year-old grandson, Daniel Baker — another amputee who lost his right leg as an infant because of a birth defect that caused him to be born without a tibia bone.

Beard talked with Baker for several minutes and showed the curious kindergartener her prosthetic. The moment was particularly special for Barchenger.

"There's going to be hard days, but she really gave us a lot of encouragement and hope that if he wants to, he can overcome all that and go on and be successful," Barchenger said. "It really meant a lot to me."

Since then, the letters or phone calls have poured in from people wishing to meet Beard or share their stories with the freshman phenomenon.

"It's been amazing," Nail said. "It's not that she's showing it off, it's that she's owning it."

Following Beard's meeting with Baker, a university picture of the moment made its way back to Kelley. The significance of the meeting, as well as Beard's impact on others, was overwhelming for her mother.

"This is our normal, therefore I have not been able to sit back and realize what an inspiration my own child can be to other people," Kelley said. "For the first time, I was able to see that inspiration that she really could be for someone like Daniel, and it just made me so very proud for the young lady she has become."