PENDLETON – When Lisa Williams gave birth to her daughter, Heidi Przytulski, 21 years ago, she had visions of playing together with dolls, ballet lessons and cheerleading.
But that just wasn’t meant to be – until now.
“She was trucks, playing outside. She wanted to play in the dirt with her brothers,” Williams said.
But all that changed a couple of months ago when Przytulski, a junior at Ball State University majoring in communication studies and minoring in American Sign Language, was named one of this year’s 33 Indianapolis 500 Festival princesses. In that capacity, she is eligible to be named 2019 500 Festival queen, who will preside over the coming weekend’s Indy 500 race activities.
Since Przytulski has donned her crown and sash, Williams has been able to participate in many girly activities, including attending the 500 Festival princess reception.
“We’ve been able to do quite a few things. We haven’t had a Saturday free,” she said.
A Pendleton native, it was unlikely the daughter of Williams and Michael Przytulski, of Arkansas, would be selected for such a public role. Unable to speak, she went through 13 years of speech therapy, starting at age 2, at South Madison Community Schools so she could pick up the 48 sounds she couldn’t pronounce.
“Sometimes I went in on Saturdays,” the 2016 Pendleton Heights High School graduate recalled.
That influenced Przytulski ‘s decision to minor in ASL and her hopes of becoming an interpreter in a courtroom or hospital.
“I am so grateful my mom stuck with it and I had someone like Mrs. (Polly) Stanley who stuck with it for so long and worked with me,” she said. “Now I am able to speak, and I am able to give a voice to other people who don’t have one.”
But that wasn’t always Przytulski’s dream. True to her tomboy ways, she joined a traveling softball team at age 4 and planned to make a career of that.
“That was what she was going to do in high school, and that’s what she was going to do in college,” her mother said.
However, plantar fasciitis and crack in growth plate discovered as she entered high school put an end to that dream.
“She couldn’t play anymore, and it devastated her. She lost all of her friends. She lost her dream,” Williams said.
Williams said she was surprised when Przytulski announced she wanted to be in the high school’s musical. By the time she graduated, Przytulski had put in more than 800 hours in theater and was named an honors thespian, Williams said.
“She just totally reinvented herself, which is such a Heidi thing to do,” she said. “They told her she wouldn’t speak properly, so she went into radio in high school.”
Przytulski also joined Pendleton Heights’ award-winning 91.7 WEEM-FM radio station, where she eventually became program director and earned the top radio student award and received a radio scholarship.
“She just did amazing, amazing things through theater and radio,” Williams said. “Basically, made talking her career. We have learned through Heidi’s life that if she says she’s going to do something, she’s going to put 110% into it.”
Jered Petrey, former general manager at WEEM, described Przytulski as very driven and not afraid to do things the others wouldn’t.
“She was a leader by example,” he said. In fact, he said, being a 500 Festival princess suits Przytulski’s drive and personality, and her background fits a lot of the criteria.
“It’s actually a program that I had mentioned to her once before as a program she might want to get into,” he said.
Williams, who through her daughter volunteered at the mini-marathon and the Mutt Strut, said when her daughter told her she was going to apply to be a 500 Festival princess, she wasn’t even sure what that meant and had to go online to research it. She then became concerned that chasing this dream and possibly having her hopes dashed by not being named a princess might get in the way of Przytulski’s long-term goals.
“A lot of these girls have done it two or three times trying to making it,” Williams said. “She said, ‘Mom, I get to do all that in a bigger way than I ever have.’ She said, ‘The worst I can do is they would say no.’”
OUT OF HER COMFORT ZONE
No one was more surprised she was selected than Przytulski. Based on six small essay questions and a series of interviews, she was selected from among more than 300 college-age applicants attending four-year universities.
“She called me sobbing, crying in the middle of a grocery store,” Williams said. “I thought she was crying because she didn’t get it. She said, ‘I am not princess material. What are they thinking?’”
“That the 500 Festival board thought as highly of me as I thought of the other women in this process, I was in shock,” Przytulski said. “Everyone I was meeting had this long list of amazing attributes. They’re all so amazing, and they all have such diverse backgrounds even though we all have been born and raised in Indiana.”
As she finished the school year, making the Ball State dean’s list with a 3.85 grade point average, and continued to work many hours as a leasing agent at an apartment complex, Przytulski’s agenda filled up with official and unofficial princess-related duties that have increased as the race day draws closer. That has included classroom presentations at local schools and libraries.
“I have come out of my comfort zone in the last two months than I ever have before. Every event, it doesn’t matter if it’s something big, I have someone who is amazing and nice and wonderful. People open up to me more than ever,” she said. “I have also had some really cool experiences through some of the other princesses.”
But it isn’t all smiles and hand waving. The 500 Festival experience includes a sort of finishing school where the young women are taught proper etiquette, interviewing and eye-catching resumes from local CEOs.
“The lessons and the leadership development is far beyond anything I ever received in high school or college,” Przytulski said. “That’s definitely going to set the 33 of us higher than our peers when we go out looking for jobs when we graduate.”
See Heidi Przytulski on the princess float at the 2019 IPL 500 Festival Parade, beginning at 11:45 a.m. Saturday in Indianapolis. The parade route starts at the American Legion Mall on Pennsylvania Street, turns west on Washington Street and comes back up Meridian Street.