I’m baaack! What an incredible, amazing trip to the Ms. Wheelchair USA Pageant! I’m going to do my best to summarize everything for you, but first I want to say I’m so very honored to be the 1st Runner-Up this year! All of the ladies are wonderful advocates for people with disabilities and are equally deserving of the title. Congratulations to Yvette Pegues of Georgia on being crowned the new Ms. Wheelchair USA! You have an amazing journey ahead of you – embrace it!
I also have the distinct honor of being the first recipient of the Dr. Georgi Hudson Smith Knowledge Award! Georgi has volunteered with the pageant for 14 years and has served as our Production Assistant Coordinator. She does a fantastic job making sure us ladies are always taken care of, that we always know where to be and what is going on, and that we are always lined up when we need to be… even if it means she has to be a little tough on us, which I happen to appreciate. J
Festivities kicked-off Tuesday evening with check-in, introductions and the opening of our state gifts. Each one of us were to bring a gift for each of our fellow titleholders. It was fun seeing what everyone brought. Thank you, ladies, for the gifts!
Wednesday morning we were off to Rubber City Harley Davidson where we each picked out a top and modeled them in a fashion show. They also took us on a tour where we got a behind-the-scenes look at servicing and customizing bikes. We also had the opportunity to get on a Harley for a picture, if we wanted to, and I decided I had to give it a try. It was surprisingly comfortable and I can now say I’ve been on a Harley!
After that we were off to City Hall for a delicious lunch with Mayor Sarah Drew and then a visit with her to S.O.A.R. Park, their boundless playground. I was excited to revisit this playground and tell Mayor Drew that my city Brooklyn Park recently opened one. Boundless or all-inclusive playgrounds are so great because they are accessible for and offer activities for all disabilities.
Wednesday evening we did a variety of things. First we met and rehearsed with our little brothers and little sisters for the big show. Then we worked with artists from Dream Outloud Studios and the Magdore Girl Scouts on three projects. First we painted a canvas square with my interpretation of one of the 24 civil rights for people with disabilities. These paintings will become a mural that will be displayed in City Hall. Next we decorated a mini Christmas tree that will be auctioned off to benefit The Dane Foundation. Mine was a very Minnesotan tree complete with fishing bobbers and lures, and Minnesota Twins bulbs. Last we made fleece blankets that will go to families supported by The Dane Foundation.
Thursday morning we attended an ADA & Self-Advocacy workshop put on by Schwartz, Roller & Zwilling. The fantastic Ed Zwilling presented and highlighted and discussed the ADA guidelines. Following that, we played a fun game of ADA Bingo and I was the lucky winner! Apparently that is the only kind of Bingo I have any luck with. J Thank you to Ed for all of the information, for answering our questions and for hanging out with us for a couple of days!
That evening we headed out to the Akron Rubber Ducks baseball game, where we got to go on the field and Ashlee (the reigning Ms. Wheelchair USA) threw out the first pitch. We enjoyed the game, getting our pictures taken with their mascots and running in to the Mayor of Akron!
Friday morning the competition officially began with private interviews with the judges, followed by round robin interviews with the judges (a la speed dating style). Maybe I’m strange, but I absolutely love this part and am completely comfortable in this kind of setting. I love talking with the judges and sharing my experiences, interests, ideas and passions by answering their questions.
Friday afternoon was a visit to Summit DD, a work center for people with disabilities. These individuals learn and enhance skills by doing work, such as packaging products for companies and absolutely not in an assembly line manner. They are obviously proud of the work they do and were so excited that we came to see them and what they do! Their smiles and enthusiasm warmed my heart, and it was my favorite activity of the week! I’m eager to find out if we have a program like this in Minnesota.
Friday afternoon was our first rehearsal at the auditorium. We primarily worked on the opening number and our platform speeches.
That evening we were honored to spend time with author and speaker David Mezzapelle. He helped get us “psyched” for the big show and calmed any nerves that needed calming. My fellow titleholders, always remember… I am beautiful; I am talented; I deserve to be here; I am a winner.
Saturday was a complete whirlwind. We arrived at the auditorium at 11:30 a.m. and probably didn’t leave there until 11:30 p.m. From lunch to rehearsal to scrambling to get ready for stage call, it was crazy. I was literally nibbling on a PBJ for dinner while the stylists curled my hair and people did my nails and got my shoes on!
The rest is history. I’m very pleased with how my platform speech came out of me. It could not have been more perfect. I had only done it straight thru once previously, but I’m extremely comfortable speaking in front of large audiences (funny how things change) and actually thrive on it, so I was confident that it was going to be ok. I absolutely loved my onstage question from the judge and I am someone who loves answering questions (strange, I know). I frequently talk about how medical professionals need to focus on treating the person and not just the diagnosis, so it was an act of fate that I received that question.
Throughout the experience I often thought of my late Grandma and Grandpa Onsum, and my late Grandpa Stevens. Grandma left us to be with Grandpa on Thanksgiving and realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to share my pictures and awards with her made me feel sad and a little emotional at times (I’m getting soft in my old age), but I felt strongly that all three of them were there with me and I’m certain they were cheering on their little Jenny.
I’m forever grateful to have been given this opportunity and experience. It’s really hard to put in to words what it means, but it truly means the world to me. I feel I am a better person for it and have grown so much as a person in unexplainable ways. I have learned so much about humanity and myself, and I now know exactly what I want to do with my life and the kinds of people I want to surround myself with.
One day I will return to the Ms. Wheelchair USA Pageant and try to take home the crown, but I don’t plan to next year (unless some incredible act of fate intervenes). I intend to take my experience these past couple of years and everything I have learned, and focus on growing my speaking career and make a difference in the lives of others that way. I’m fairly sure you haven’t seen the last of me yet… J
A huge thank you to everyone involved with Ms. Wheelchair USA and the pageant – Tami, Georgi, Stefan, Patty and the Moser family, Marcia, Meg, Janice, Pumpkin, and especially Lowery! Thank you for making this organization and opportunity possible, and for believing in all of us and everything we can do!
To the judges, thank you for giving us your time and for hearing what we had to say! I know you didn’t have an easy task. I appreciate all of your feedback and encouragement!
A thank you to my fellow titleholders – Michele, Yvette, Starla, Dianna, JaRae, Shelly and Chandra! Thank you for being the awesome ladies that you are and for wanting to make a positive difference in the world!
Thank you to Ashlee Lundvall, Ms. Wheelchair USA 2013… my fellow adventurous girl at heart. Thank you for being such a shining example of what every titleholder should be and for being a wonderful Ms. Wheelchair USA! I appreciate all of your input and advice (from pageantry to hair). I know our paths will cross again someday!
And to my sponsors… Rollx Vans, Digital Grapevine, Sammy Perella’s, the Diversity Club at Normandale Community College, everyone who volunteered with and attended Pancakes with a Princess, everyone who purchased Keep Calm and Be A Princess shirts, and everyone who individually contributed to my fundraising! Thank you for your support and believing in me! I could not have had this opportunity without you!
Thank you to anyone who has offered their support and encouragement! It shows me who really cares and I appreciate it more than you know! I know some people think I just do this just so I can wear a crown and get attention… that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s always been extremely important that I am a titleholder and not just a girl with a crown. It’s so important to me that I withhold my duties and responsibilities as a titleholder, and that I work hard to promote the program and its purpose. I do this because I care about others, period. The crown and recognition are just a small bonus.
I have a couple months left in my reign and will keep going until then and beyond!