2016 Ms. Wheelchair Washington

2016 Ms. Wheelchair Washington
Nicole Martini

Article about Jannette

A beauty queen with a message
Deployment specialist finds many things to be grateful for
Laura M. Levering/Northwest Guardian
Published: 01:03PM October 1st, 2009

Ingrid Barrentine/Northwest Guardian
Jannette Saxton, 2009 Ms. Wheelchair Washington, finished first runner up at the Ms. Wheelchair America competition held Aug. 29 in South Dakota. Saxton works as a U.S. Army mobilization and deployment specialist at Fort Lewis.
She dons a crown, wears a sash, occasionally puts on a gown and has a smile that “lights up a room,” but Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2009, Jannette Saxton, hardly considers herself a beauty queen.
Saxton, a deployment specialist at Waller Hall, said the pageant is about more than external beauty.
Born with cerebral palsy and wheelchair-bound her whole life, the 31-year-old Lakewood resident said her friends and coworkers encouraged her to enter the Ms. Wheelchair Washington pageant after “Googling” it to see whether such a program existed. When she discovered it did, Saxton began the application process with hopes of making a difference for others with disabilities.
“As a young person, I didn’t have many mentors who had used wheelchairs or had physical disabilities and yet pursued independence in their dreams,” she said. “I saw people who perhaps didn’t have a way of educating themselves or being independent in mind.”
Saxton, on the other hand, was raised by her parents to be independent. She said she had an “above average” childhood compared to most others she knew in wheelchairs.
“My family never allowed me to see my disability as an excuse not to try,” she said.
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Instead, they tried to understand the social awkwardness of being in a wheelchair and impressed upon Saxton the importance of using her intelligence, wit and emotional abilities to be a contributing member of society.
“When I was younger, my mom had to explain to me that I couldn’t be a ballerina, and I obviously wasn’t going to be the next track star,” she joked.
“They understood moments like that.”
Saxton’s mainstream education, abundance of health care resources and pursuit of higher education helped her become the contributor her parents spoke of. Her accomplishments include a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations from Arizona State University, followed by a master’s degree in counseling from the University of San Diego.
Despite her physical beauty, educational background and zeal for life, Saxton said she was shocked when she was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2009 at the Northwest Paralyzed Veterans Association in February. Adding to her surprise was a recent victory as first runner-up at the nationwide pageant.
“I was thrilled, but there were other very qualified women involved, and I really believe any of them would’ve represented us very well.”
Representation. That’s what the pageant really comes down to, said Tammy Wilber, state pageant coordinator and Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2006.
“It’s a way for a woman, who happens to be in a wheelchair, to get out there and really do something positive for the disabled community,” Wilber said.
Saxton said she hopes to do just that by achieving confidence through inspiration, optimism and nurturing. Simply put, she’s taking action.
“Disability is one of the things that regardless of ethnicity, religion, age or socioeconomic status, can affect anyone.”
Saxton’s status has afforded her the opportunity to speak at public forums and meet with disabled people of all backgrounds. Vietnam veterans are one group she is particularly fond of for their sacrifices.
“Because of their willingness and courage to pursue legislation and equal rights, now I have the right to be gainfully employed and seen as viable amongst my peers,” Saxton said. “I really owe them my gratitude for their courage on and off the battlefield.”
Saxton said one thing she wishes people understood is that everyone has some kind of mountain to climb in life; some just happen to be more visible than others.
“I have encountered people that emotionally have been through so much, but they don’t know how to wrap their minds around it enough to take another step … to me, that is just as disabling as some physical disabilities,” she said.
Her advice is to look for ways to help somebody, regardless of physical status.
“You can heal emotionally and spiritually if you find a way to help somebody else,” she said.
Her ability do so is one of many qualities that make Saxton perfect for the titles she holds as Ms. Wheelchair Washington and a deployment specialist.
Between working with paralyzed veterans and deploying Soldiers on a daily basis, Wilber believes Saxton is in a unique position that will enable her to bring about positive change.
“She makes such a connection with Soldiers before they leave that if they come back injured, maybe they’ll remember (Saxton) and think, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’”
Saxton looks forward to continue working with Soldiers and getting more involved with the Paralyzed Veterans Association of America.
With an uncertain but positive outlook on the future, Saxton said she’s open to whatever comes her way.
“Hopefully, I can continue to make a difference by having people realize that limitations never define you. What defines you is the difference you’ve made in others’ lives.”
Laura M. Levering: laura.may.levering@us.army.mil