From the State Coordinator: What the Ms. Wheelchair Washington/America Program Means to me
In 2000, I was moving to Seattle from Miami, and I was researching disability organizations in Washington, and stumbled upon the Ms. Wheelchair America website. I saw that in 1996, Ms. Wheelchair Washington had gone on to become Ms. Wheelchair America, her name is Elaine Stefanowicz. I thought since I was moving to Washington, I would try and get in contact with her since I was moving to Seattle not knowing any other women in wheelchairs. In the last 17 years since I have been in a wheelchair, I have always found it so important to have women friends that are in wheelchairs, not only just for the camaraderie, but for support and friendship.
So after I got to Seattle, I tried to get in contact with Elaine, but I had the wrong contact information, and it wasn’t until 5 years later that our paths finally crossed. I was so excited to finally meet her in person because she was a Ms. Wheelchair America, and just reading about her she seemed like a great person. I happen to be at an event she was at and she was recruiting contestants for the 2006 Ms. Wheelchair Washington Pageant, and when she told me about it, I didn’t even hesitant, and said where do I sign up?
When it came time for the 2006 Ms. Wheelchair Washington pageant to happen, two other contestants dropped out at the last minute, so I had the option to enter as an Independent Delegate. Since the pageant got canceled, I decided to still apply as a Independent Delegate, knowing that the next year I would become the State Coordinator. I sent my application into the National Ms. Wheelchair America Program, along with letters of recommendation, and then I was accepted as the 2006 Ms. Wheelchair Washington. I spent my year focusing on the importance of volunteering, and traveling around Washington state doing appearances, and advocating on behalf of the people with disabilities in Washington. I met so many incredible people, made a lot of connections, and it was such an honor to be Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2006.
Although , I did not win the title of Ms. Wheelchair America that year, to me it was just an honor to have the experience of meeting such amazing women with disabilities from all over the country. The week that I spent at the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, truly was one of the best weeks of my life. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and although the pageant at the State level was canceled, if it had not been canceled, then I would not have had to be an Independent Delegate, and I wouldn’t have gone on to become the State Coordinator for the Ms. Wheelchair Washington Pageant. So, as my year as the titleholder came to an end, I held my first state pageant. I was new to coordinating the event and recruiting contestants, but I pulled it off, and I handed the title over to Sigrid Laegried, who became Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2007.
Since then, I have successfully held 4 pageants, and each year recruited more and more contestants. Although, I know many women with disabilities in Washington State, all of the contestants who have been in the past 3 pageants I didn’t know many of these women personally. In the past four years, I have had the opportunity to meet more women in Washington State with disabilities by being the State Coordinator, and I have created friendships with all of the contestants. It has been such an honor to be able to meet these ladies that I maybe would have never have met and learn about them, and learn from them.
Each titleholder of the pageants have become great friends of mine, and even now the year I spent with Sigrid Laegreid (2007), Meg Paulsen (2008), Jannette Saxton (2009) and now Krystal Monteros (the 2010 Ms. Wheelchair Washington), I know these women are going to be life long friends. I really enjoy being a mentor to all of the Ms. Wheelchair Washington’s and I do whatever I can to assist them on their journey through their year. I feel truly blessed to be the State Coordinator and bring more awareness to the Ms. Wheelchair Washington program, as well as the Ms. Wheelchair America Program. I will always remember my year as Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2006, but I will never forget the incredible friendships I am making as the year's continue, and I plan on being the State Coordinator as long as possible.
The Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant to me, is actually more like a program to bring awareness not just to women with disabilities, but to all people with disabilities. It opens up a lot of doors for women with disabilities, and each contestant over the last 30 plus years, I am sure has benefited from being a Ms. Wheelchair for their state. I have been inspired by many of the contestants locally, and nationally, and I am excited to see what the future holds, because it is a world of opportunity for women in wheelchairs.
So to all of the Ms. Wheelchair Washington's: As each day goes on in my daily life and no matter how bad things may get, I think of all these wonderful women who have been brought into my life over the past 4 years and I am truly blessed!,
So thank you for being my sitting sista's
Your State Coordinator