No announcement yet.

Wheelchair pageant celebrates achievement

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

    Wheelchair pageant celebrates achievement

    Posted on Tue, Oct. 15, 2002
    Wheelchair pageant celebrates achievement
    Special to The Herald

    ST. PETERSBURG -- Courtney Santiago, 24, always dreamed of being crowned queen of the pageant. She just never thought it would happen in a wheelchair.

    Diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a rare neurological disorder caused by trauma -- in Santiago's case a bump on her knee -- she was told at 15 she would never get out of a powered wheelchair. Previously an award-winning athlete, she graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA from a hospital bed where she lived for eight years.

    But on Saturday night, the blond from Fort Lauderdale, wearing a strapless red gown, won the title of Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2003.

    A standing-room-only crowd gathered at the Hilton Hotel in downtown St. Petersburg for the annual pageant that claims it's not a beauty contest.
    ''It's a celebration of the achievements of disabled women,'' said Lynn Naves, state coordinator and a former titleholder.

    The purpose of the Ms. Wheelchair Florida Program is to find an accomplished, articulate spokeswoman for disabled Americans. Established in 1972 by an Ohio physician who devoted his career to the rehabilitation of functionally impaired individuals, the pageant is a forum for advocating the needs and informing the public about the capabilities of disabled women.

    Just as in the Miss Florida pageants, Ms. Wheelchair Florida goes on to compete at the national level. She also wears a tiara and travels the state.

    The Ms. Wheelchair Florida Program is open to women ages 21 to 60, married or single. There is a downside: Ms. Wheelchair Florida doesn't endow the winner with big prize money.

    ''It was a very rewarding but stressful year,'' said Colleen Macort, 38, last year's winner. As a single mother of two with a full-time job in Jensen Beach, Macort has been in a wheelchair since she was 23. She was born with a tumor on her back, and an operation left scar tissue that left her without sensation in her legs. A second operation put her in a wheelchair.

    As Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2002, Macort was responsible for booking her own speaking engagements, providing her own transportation and expenses. Encouraged to solicit donations from sponsors, she traveled to Rockville, Md., in August for the Ms. Wheelchair America Program, where she was fourth runner-up.

    Festivities began Friday evening with a dinner hosted by Stefan Korts and Tracy Purser, residents of St. Petersburg, a city with one of the nation's largest populations of physically disabled citizens.

    Jennifer French, 31, first runner-up from Tampa, became a quadriplegic from a snowboarding accident in New England. A year later, she went down the same slope on an adapted ski with a seat. As the first woman to receive the Implantable Standing and Transfer FES system, with electrodes under the skin enabling her to briefly stand, she walked down the aisle at her wedding. Currently, she teaches disabled children to sail at a St. Petersburg marina where ``people with and without disabilities compete on an equal playing field.''

    She's training to make it on the Paralympic Sailing Team.

    New to the pageant this year is the Spirit Award, voted on by the contestants. Jennifer Leigh Brodsky, 22, won it. Brodsky was in a car accident when she was 5 months old and was the youngest candidate in the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, whose research has helped actor Christopher Reeve. Now, she is chairwoman of the Tampa chapter of the Buoniconti Fund, a Miami Project affiliate, and wants to teach children about disabilities.

    An atmosphere of normalcy pervades this group of determined women. They have bad hair days. They talk about muscle tone. And fashion, careers and men.

    ''I was warned in the hospital about the attention I would get,'' said Marie Moncrief, 22, who became a paraplegic two years ago, riding with friends in her new car. Her social life has grown since the accident with new friends from support groups she attends and old friends. ''When I go clubbing, all the guys come up and talk to me. Now, all my friends want to borrow my wheelchair,''
    Moncrief said.

    Several women, however, experienced very different reactions. Macort and Naves say their marriages ended when their husbands realized the wheelchair was permanent.

    ''It made me stronger,'' Macort said. ``I had to show my children how to take life for what it is, make the best of it and move on.''

    Seneca, what about you winning this contest?

    [img]/forum/images/smilies/smile.gif[/img] [img]/forum/images/smilies/biggrin.gif[/img]

    Onward and Upward!


      Hehe, I wasn't even aware of it. Besides I'm too quiet and reserved, I cringe at the prospect of having to speak in front of a crowd. Those graduate school lectures were pure de hell for me. [img]/forum/images/smilies/eek.gif[/img]

      But thanks for thinking of me. [img]/forum/images/smilies/smile.gif[/img]


        They have to pay for all their appearances? That sucks! Guess I won't become Ms. Wheelchair Arkansas anytime soon, lol. Besides, I think these women have to be injured for 3 or more years. Only 2 1/2 more to go! He he he. [img]/forum/images/smilies/tongue.gif[/img]


          It's time to prepare for next years pageant:

          Ms. Wheelchair America, Inc.
          proudly presents
          Ms. Wheelchair America 2009

          The National competition to select the new Titleholder was held the week of July 21-27, 2008 at the Hilton in Rockville, Maryland.