|Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on September 30, 2010 at 11:21 PM|
On August 9th, I traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan to embark on another amazing week with some of the most amazing women I have ever met, at the Ms. Wheelchair America 2011 pageant. The week was full of activities, and I must say Shelly Loose really did an amazing job putting together and organizing this amazing week. She is an angel for sure!
All of the girls were able to bond and spend time together throughout the week while going on scavenger hunts around the city, eating dinner together with a mystery theater, and of course dancing!
Above: All of the girls in front of an amazing sculpture in Grand Rapids
Below: Dancing Queens
Then the night came when the girls gave their platform speeches in front of the audience and judges. They were all so nervous, but got up on that stage and courageously spoke about their passions. I was so proud of each and everyone of them.
Saturday night was the night we all waited for..the crowning ceremony. Here I would crown the new Ms. Wheelchair America 2011 after giving my farewell speech. My farewell speech is below:
On January 20, 2002, I was injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by domestic violence. After being in a coma for 2 ½ months, I awoke to learn that my life as I had known it for 21 years had been changed forever. The doctor’s told me that I would never walk again, and that I would be “confined” to a wheelchair for the rest of my life. They had no idea, and neither did I or my family, that I was going to be where I am now in life. I have proven to all of them, and myself, that anything is possible, as well as give them a reason to redefine there definition of “confined”.
The first couple of years after my injury, I was not introduced to other people in wheelchairs, especially other women in wheelchairs. The only thing that kept me getting out of bed from day to day was my children. Inside, I felt as if I had no purpose, but I knew that everything happens for a reason, and that if nothing else I had to show my three little girls that they can be strong, independent, and motivated women no matter what obstacles they faced in there life’s journey. I knew that I had to find a way to make my negative situation a positive one, and help not only my children to believe that anything was possible, but also the millions of other people that found themselves in the same situation that I was facing. I have never been one to give up, or stop living, and I was not going to stop now; that’s how I roll!
I started networking on the internet, building relationships with other woman just like me that were living with disabilities and realized there was a whole community that existed that I never knew about. It was a community that showed me that I could still surf, ride a bicycle, dance and play sports. A community that did not judge people’s outward appearance or their disabilities, but instead they focused and motivated each other to bring out their abilities; people who were showing the world that life rolls on. That is when I found out about the Ms. Wheelchair America Organization and it’s mission to educate the public about disability issues, and promote awareness. I figured this would be a great way to meet even more women like myself, and to share my story with as many people across the nation as I could, all with hopes of making a lasting impression of determination and motivation to others with the same circumstances. Little did I know that I was embarking on one of the greatest adventures of my life, up to this point.
Now, over a year later, I can’t believe how fast this time has gone by, and what an amazing year it has been! When this journey all began for me in April of 2009, when I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina, I never expected what the future held for me. I also had no idea that I was going to meet some of the strongest, accomplished, and vivacious women that I have ever met, and who were also in wheelchairs from day to day. My week at the national competition in Rapid City, South Dakota was, by far, my most cherished memory of my year as Ms. Wheelchair America 2010. Throughout the week prior to being crowned, I was so humbled and touched by the other girls that were participating in the competition with me. We had all overcome so many obstacles to get to that point in our lives and each of us brought a unique and inspiring story of persistence and determination. I did not expect to leave that competition with a crown, but rather with new friendships that would last a lifetime, and a sense of humbleness for where I had come to at that point in my life.
After I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2010, I definitely realized that with my title I was going to represent all of those women plus the millions of others across the United States. It had to not only inspire many to do the same as I was doing, but also to set an example to all about accomplishing their goals and reaching their dreams, no matter how they may “roll” through life.
I have had many, many adventures along the way this last year. Here are a few highlights. There have been way too many to write.
In November I traveled to Washington D.C., to speak on behalf of the National Disability Institute and the IRS for the Real Economic Impact Tour kick-off at the National Press Club. It was definitely for a purpose that I hold very close to my heart. The REI Tour is to promote financial means and stability for people living with disabilities through education and vocational opportunities.
On New Year’s Day, I was honored to participate in the Tournament of the Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, along with Alyson Roth. (Ms. Wheelchair California 2009 and my second runner-up) We received the opportunity to ride on the Kiwanis International Foundation float in the nationally famous parade.
At the end of January, I traveled back to Rapid City, SD to downhill snow ski with the Black Hills Annual Ski for Light Organization, where I was able to visit with old friends and make many new ones, as well as experience adaptive snow skiing for the first time!
Another one of my favorite highlights was attending the Abilities Expos in October 2009, April 2010, and May 2010, in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Edison, NJ. There I was able to meet with many people of all ages with disabilities, as well as many of the companies within the disability industry.
Thank you to my sponsors over the past year, including Colours Wheelchair, Lega Wear, the National Disability Institute, 54 Freedom, NCAMES, VGM, and the many supporters who have donated toward my travel needs. And finally, my daughters and my family for standing behind me, as I reached for the stars.
It wasn’t until I had a moment to catch my breath at the end of my year, that I realized that I finally reached my biggest dream. That dream was to touch the lives of as many people living with disabilities with my story, and to show them that there is always a road ahead no matter what limitations they were facing, anything is possible. I have made so many friends and left an impression on so many people’s lives by advocating for, not only myself, but for the disability community at large. I know that this year’s title holder, as well as the Ms. Wheelchair America Organization will continue to thrive and make a difference in lives of many. To all who are competing this year, and in future years, I want to say that everyone of you are winners. It does not take a crown and sash to make a difference. It only takes going out into the world and showing that we are not “Dis”abled, but rather “Differently” abled. We are actually very able, just in a different way. It takes many voices, forming a community, to spread our messages and break the stigmas that exist about people who are living with disabilities, and that is the community that we are all building within the disability industry by representing our states and competing for the national title. It is not this week, and whether or not you win, that makes the difference, but rather the fact that you have overcome so many obstacles to get to this week in your life. You are all winners! And to our new Ms. Wheelchair America 2011, enjoy the adventure that you have just embarked upon!
Congratulations to the new Ms. Wheelchair America 2011, Alexandra McArthur, from North Carolina! We are all so proud of you!!
Above: Me crowning Alex!
Below: Alex and I in tears..this was such a proud moment for me
...and the new chapter now begins!....