Ashleigh Lucina likes to draw.
Her notebook holds characters she's created. It also offers insight into the mind of this 17-year-old from Amherst.
"I drew a picture and in it is a shattered mirror. I felt like I used to be beautiful, used to be something you'd admire who's now broken, useless and unable to be repaired," Ashleigh said. "It gives insight into how I sometimes feel about the struggles that go on in my life."
On the surface, Ashleigh is a typical high school senior at Sweet Home High School. She runs cross country, plays a musical instrument and is in the chemistry club.
"Being able to act on them (activities) right now is wonderful," Ashleigh said. "Because opportunities like this are literally once in a lifetime."
But beyond traditional student life, Ashleigh is seen by many as a trailblazer. She's leading and defining what it means to be a transgender high school student athlete.
"She is saying this is who I am, this is what I want to do and I want to be looked upon and treated like any other athlete here at Sweet Home," said Athletic Director Matt LaRoach.
"When she loves, she loves real hard," added Sweet Home chemistry teacher Sarah English. "I think that's one of the things that makes her so incredibly special."
Ashleigh was born Zach. But as she grew up, she came to a life-changing realization.
"It was more of a gradual realization that I was transgender more so the fact that I suddenly became transgender," Ashleigh said. "I always was really awkward as a boy but normal as a girl."
At the age of fourteen, Ashleigh tells us she began embracing her true self. She has a unique way of explaining her inner turmoil.
"The world sees me as a walnut but I'm a pistachio," Ashleigh explained. "When people call me a walnut, I get very angry and I get very sad because I know I'm not a walnut. I'm a pistachio. It's been like that since the day I was born."
And it's in the halls of Sweet Home High School where Ashleigh says she finds the nurturing and acceptance she needs.
"This is my home. I live here," Ashleigh said about Sweet Home. "This is where I'm relaxed. This is where I'm happy. This is where I'm not a bumbling mess that's trying to survive in a way."
It's this culture of acceptance that Sweet Home administrators have made pivotal as their school's mission.
"We put an emphasis on making sure the students understand that how they treat each other is the single most important thing that happens," said Sweet Home Principal Scott Martin.
Making all students feel comfortable and confident, Sweet Home administrators are leading the charge.
"This is the norm," LaRoach said. "Not only for Ashleigh but also, I really believe that it's the normal for Sweet Home."
Across Western New York and the nation, schools are confronting the issue of gender identity and sexual orientation.
Principal Scott Martin says other districts have contacted Sweet Home as they, too, try and create their own policies.
"We're building an environment of mutual respect, Martin said. "A lot of schools try to find their identity and our identity is that we have many. That's a neat thing to have when you sit in my chair."
In the meantime, Ashleigh hopes her story and these words will help others who are struggling with their own gender identity.
"Cry. Smile. Be emotional," Ashleigh said. "If you just show what your emotions are, if you show what you're thinking and doing, you'll accomplish incredible things and you won't even realize it."
Ashleigh will be graduating in the coming weeks and plans to study material science or chemistry in college.
For those who'd like more information about the Pride Center of Western New York, you can contact them at 716-852-7743 or at www.pridecenterwny.org.