Do you ever think about what you could accomplish if you ignored your self-doubts? Try doing what scares you the most - it could teach you endless lessons, instill positivity, and make you the happiest you've ever been. That's what happened to me.
When I was 10 years old, I got into a car accident that changed my life forever. I learned that I would never be able to walk again and lost full control of my bladder. Over the years, I went through changes no one close to me could relate to, and I felt more alone than I admitted. My confidence was extremely low, and I knew I had to help myself get out of the dark state I was in. As I got older, I realized I needed to start facing my fears and pushing myself to try something new. I found out about the Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina pageant and adopted a "bring it on!" mindset that completely changed me physically and mentally.
After I won, I realized I could do anything I put my mind to, so I started doing more of what I loved, which was traveling and connecting with others.
I became the first paraplegic girl to climb Mt. Rushmore's cliffs, BASE jump in the country, and drive cross country on a national tour alone. Of course, I have faced hardships and challenges along the way - let's face it, not everywhere is wheelchair-friendly, and it hasn't been easy shaking off some discouraging comments. But, I have never let that get in the way of embracing who I am, and it's made me more confident ever since.
Since beginning my journey to become the first wheelchair-user Miss USA, I have been on a mission to inspire others to reach their full potential. In March 2020, the pageant was canceled as I watched the pandemic flip our nation inside out. COVID-19 has caused devastation and uncertainty across the board, and I was among the many that struggled with mental health. Of course, while I was extremely disappointed that something I had worked hard towards was canceled, I knew the world was suffering even more than I was. Everyone was struggling in some way, and our society saw an uptick in loneliness and mental health issues more than ever before. I knew I had to keep my head up, but it was so hard.
Earlier this year, I tested positive for COVID and felt even more terrified and defeated. It took a great toll on me both physically and mentally, but surviving has made me even more grateful for every day I have and more determined to be an example of strength to others. From someone who has strived over the years to be as independent as possible, it's hard not to feel like a burden at times, especially during the pandemic. It's important to remind yourself that the people in your life that have always been loyal and supportive are not going to stop and that you should always be your biggest cheerleader.
For me, pageantry is more than just getting up on stage in a gown; it's about pushing for growth and further becoming the best version of myself. I am currently preparing for the rescheduled Ms. North Carolina in March. I've had to push myself in ways I've never had to before, and I feel like the healthiest version of myself. Even though I'm in a chair and need to think about things like selecting a gown and exercise in very different ways, that doesn't mean I can't still try and do everything.
I don't have to limit myself because I may think I should.
I know that putting myself out as a public figure in the world means I am at risk of being judged or receiving looks for being "different" than other women. But, this journey has already become such a rewarding experience, and I'm thankful to have become so strong in my sense of self.
My goal is to represent those who feel that they don't have a strong voice and spread the message that no matter what challenges you have faced or are currently facing, keep going. At times, it can definitely feel hard to find the light at the end of the tunnel, but it's important to know that you are not alone. If you had told me years ago that I would be speaking about my struggles with incontinence and helping to further normalize the daily experiences of life as a disabled woman, I might not have believed you. Through my work with companies like Aeroflow Urology,
I'm able to be the person I needed when I first became disabled by showing others like me that they're not alone, and that there are so many amazing things they can accomplish.
Every single person is important, and we all have more in common with each other than many of us may initially think.
Our minds are powerful forces - ignore the self-doubt and focus on your superpowers. You may just surprise yourself.