11-year-old is 'Queen of Knoebels'
ELYSBURG - Ciara Conarty's favorite things in life are SpongeBob, swimming and Knoebels Amusement Resort. Conarty got to experience all those things - and more - when her wish to be crowned "Queen of Knoebels" came true this week.
The 11-year-old from Gibert, Monroe County, who suffers from Rett Syndrome, was crowned Thursday afternoon prior to a parade through the park that included the Knoebel family, staff, members of the Shamokin Area High School Band and Kozmo and Dexter, the park's mascots. Ciara and her mother, Jennifer Kane, sat behind Dick Knoebel while he drove a motorized coaster train through the park. The event was the highlight of an all-expense-paid four-day trip courtesy of the park and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Conarty, her mother, stepfather, John Kane, brothers Zachary Strohl, 12, and Grant Conarty, 9, and nurse, Eureka Wilson, stayed in a three-bed room cottage a short distance from the park. They also received golf cart transportation, food tickets, pool and ride passes and, of course, a SpongeBob balloon.
"The park has been very accommodating," Jennifer said. "The ride operators were polite and helpful, and the food stand workers made sure to talk to Ciara. They even turned off the strobe lights in the Haunted House and Black Diamond because Ciara is susceptible to seizures."
Conarty is unable to verbally communicate or use her hands, but does express her feelings through her eyes and giggles of laughter, of which Kane said there was no shortage when her daughter rode the Black Diamond earlier in the week.
Rett is a neurological disorder that occurs mostly in girls, but is typically more severe in boys. It is caused by mutations on the X chromosome on a gene called methyl CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2). Most children who have Rett Syndrome live six to 18 months with normal development before developing debilitating problems with brain functions, including communication and learning.
Kane said Ciara started loosing skills at 9 months old and had her first seizure when she was three. A year later, Ciara was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome after testing positive for the MeCP2 mutation.
The disease has stolen many of Ciara's normal functions, but it hasn't taken away her personality. Her family has always called her the "Royal Cuteness."
"She loves Knoebels. So we put the two together and made her the Queen of Knoebels," Kane said. "When we got to the cottage, it was filled with balloons, flowers and stuffed animals. Anything we asked for was taken care of."
Stacy Ososkie, of the park's public relations department, said the park was contacted by Make-A-Wish in June about granting Ciara's wish. The park set the wheels in motion and accommodated the family any way they could.
Ososkie said every department of the park has played a role in making Ciara's visit memorable.
Brian and Trevor Knoebel, fourth-generation members of the family, said Ciara and her family were overwhelmed with gratitude and continued to thank the Knoebel family for making Ciara's wish come true.
Knoebel said the park has an ongoing relationship with the foundation, granting a similar wish two years ago and raising funds for the foundation through events, including a 5K event in July and auctioning off the first seats to the Twister when it opened in July 1999.