Student Speech on Anorexia Journey Wins Cincinnati Rotary Speech Contest

Lynn Sandmann used to skip breakfast and embrace extreme diets and exhausting workouts. She couldn’t start her day without checking her weight. Thin wasn’t enough. She didn’t have a “thigh gap,” the air space between her thighs that, although unnatural and unattainable by most women, has been touted as a 21th century mark of beauty.

 Sandmann, a sophomore at McNicholas High School in Mt. Washington, held an audience of more than 120 business and community leaders rapt as her story of weight and body-shape obsession won her first place in the Rotary Club of Cincinnati’s 4-Way Test Speech competition on Feb. 23.

Sandmann, of Anderson Township, was hospitalized and diagnosed with anorexia in 2021. Two years later she is healthy and spreading a hard-won truth: “Perfect bodies are impossible,” she said. “It is not worth the cost of your life.

Sandmann was one of four finalists from across Greater Cincinnati competing to represent the Rotary Club of Cincinnati at the regional speech finals on March 26 at Wright State University. That competition draws high school students from across Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky.

“With social media and other ways that kids can hide behind screens, presentation skills become more important than ever,” said Angie Noble, teacher at McNicholas High School. She said the Rotary program energized her students and gave them a real-world perspective.

Rotary does more than sponsor the contest. Rotary members worked with students and teachers at in-school programs for more than three months, coaching and mentoring students, said program chair Laure Quinlivan of Mt. Lookout. Co-chairs were Jim Brooks of Mason and Rob Hageman of Union, Ky.

Doreena Fox, teacher at Walnut Hills High School, said the Rotary competition reinforced the school’s focus on public speaking.

“All through one’s life you are giving presentations – a new idea you have for the company where you work, as an attorney. People, in general, are in front of others quite often in life,” said Fox, of Ft. Wright, Ky. “The Rotary program is a great opportunity for students to meet people in different professions. They’re getting feedback from someone who is an attorney, a doctor, someone who owns a business.  That’s different from listening to a teacher.”

Each speech had to incorporate the Rotary’s 4-Way Test – the ethical standard that calls on Rotary members to assure that everything they think, do or say is the truth, is fair to all concerned, will build goodwill and better friendships and will be beneficial to all concerned.

Other contest speakers were Carly Weidenbacher, also from McNicholas, who focused on suicide prevention through the Hope Squad program; Grem Sheas of DePaul Cristo Rey High School in Clifton, speaking about students being “othered” in school if they don’t conform to superficial norms and Tamara Munoz from Walnut Hills High School, exploring school shootings.

Karrington Rainey, a senior at the University of Cincinnati who won the contest in 2019, was a guest speaker. She said the competition “became a catalyst to my success.” She said the students’ experiences give their words power. “Never be silent or allow someone to silence you,” she said.

Celebrity judges were WCPO-TV reporter and Cincy Lifestyle host Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw of Walnut Hills, former Cincinnati Bengals star kicker Jim Breech of Liberty Township, former Cincinnati Reds star George Foster of Blue Ash, Cincinnati Enquirer opinion editor Kevin Aldridge of West Chester and former WCPO-TV anchor Julie O’Neill of Loveland. Rotary members Mark Reckman of Wyoming and Erin Focke of Union, Ky., also judged.

The Rotary Club of Cincinnati is a service and networking organization for business and community leaders. With close to 300 members, it is the largest and oldest Rotary Club in Greater Cincinnati. For information on The Rotary Club of Cincinnati see

Click HERE for a video of this year’s contest. 




Author: Peggy Hodgson