Being In A Wheelchair Won't Stop Me From Pursuing My Pageant Dreams

4min read

At a very young age, my life took an irreversible turn. As a result of a car accident at ten years old, I lost the use of my legs and control of my bladder. Facing incontinence and losing the use of my legs wasn't an easy task and still remains difficult today. However, upon finally gaining the courage to share the truth about my condition, I have been able to grow the confidence necessary to take control of my symptoms and make a difference for myself and others bound by their disabilities.

Living In Fear

As a child in elementary school, I was terrified of wetting my pants, but a lack of bladder control didn't really work in my favor. I was trapped behind a wall of shame that kept growing taller, brick by brick, as the fear of my classmates and friends teasing me grew stronger.

Their eyes were already on me as the little girl who went from doing flips on the monkey bars to being stuck to her wheelchair. I shyly smiled to help my classmates feel comfortable around me, despite the discomfort I felt inside.

I would have frequent accidents forcing me to leave school and go home to change clothes and get more supplies. My mom, who was my rock throughout the entirety of this readjustment phase, would always take time off work to come to pick me up even though she could hardly afford to take that time off.

Honestly, incontinence felt like a curse that was much worse than the loss of my ability to move my legs. It created anxiety, and I let it control my life. Incontinence chose where I would and wouldn't go. It stopped me from going to friends' houses and from participating in fun events countless times.

This fear lasted into my twenties and even throughout college. I wouldn't even tell people I dated about my incontinence concerns. If an incident occurred during a date, it was much easier to cover it up by making up stories like spilling a drink on my dress and needing to change.

Opening Up

Though my journey has been long, finally opening up about the struggles I've faced with incontinence has helped me bust through the wall of shame that had bound me for years.

One accident, in particular, changed the way I thought about my life.

During one of my physical therapy sessions, I had an accident on a treadmill in front of multiple people. I couldn't breathe—the embarrassment was overwhelming. But then someone said, "It's just pee." And that comment made something click. What was the big deal? It is only pee.

To my surprise, once I started to talk openly about incontinence, people were extremely understanding, even my boyfriend! People even shared their own amazing stories that showed me how much our own perceptions shape our lives, even when they aren't true.

Because I'm no longer trapped or bound by my wall of shame created by incontinence, I feel free. I'm learning to leave my comfort zone with new experiences every day.

With help from Aeroflow Healthcare, I was able to easily acquire incontinence supplies through insurance such as pullups, chux, wet wipes, and more. This has enabled me to take leaps I never thought possible such as studying abroad, going rock climbing, jumping out of an airplane (yes, skydiving!), competing in wheelchair pageants, and much more.

On that note, I'm extremely excited to be competing for Miss North Carolina USA on November 8th and 9th, where I'll have the opportunity to display my ability while communicating my goals and ambitions. I'm thrilled to use this platform to educate and spread awareness about living with disabilities.

Helping People Live Boundless

Upon gaining more self-confidence, I discovered that my true passion in life is helping and inspiring others to help them live boundlessly and regain control of their lives.

That's why I launched my nonprofit organization, Live Boundless. Through education, empowerment, and equipping others with the tools needed to thrive, they can be released from fear.

Currently, the Live Boundless goal is to help distribute wheelchairs across the world to those in need. Around 90% of people who need wheelchairs in developing countries do not have access to one.

The sorrow upon hearing this statistic helped me realize that providing mobility equipment had to be the first goal of the organization. We actually just returned from the Philippines, where we had our largest distribution so far. We were able to deliver almost 300 wheelchairs to people who previously hadn't been able to move around freely due to their disabilities.

There is a visible change in a person once they receive the wheelchair that they so desperately need. Their eyes light up with the endless amount of possibilities in front of them as soon as they recognize the opportunity to now live their life without holding back.

By traveling from coast to coast to participate in activities that represent "fear-chasers," I hope to inspire others by proving that it's possible to live a bold, joyful, and fearless life even with the challenges or disabilities life throws at us.

It's my hope that Live Boundless will help people access activities that would typically be seen as unattainable, like surfing or even skydiving, and will serve as a challenge for others to reach a higher potential for their lives. Which, in turn, will help challenge them to live free of their incontinence issues or other disabilities.

I've been there, at rock bottom, as a shy girl almost too nervous to smile for my friends. I never imagined becoming Miss Wheelchair USA with a passion for public speaking and helping others.

I want others to know that your disability, fear, or anxiety don't control you. You can achieve goals you've never imagined. Maybe your mantra is a little better than "it's just pee," but whatever it is, remember to always live boundlessly.

4 Min Read

Tips To Help Women Move Beyond #OKBoomer at Work

When I first heard #OKBoomer, I cringed and thought — here we go again.

Yet another round of generation bashing, this time Millennials against Baby Boomers. This new social media conflict will not help workplace dynamics.

Throughout my career, I've heard countless rants about long-established workplace norms that younger generations perceive as overly repressive rules that subvert identity, familial obligations, civility, and respect for the environment.

I get it. I remember how I felt early in my career being told that I couldn't wear pants, had to wear pantyhose (even in 90-degree weather) and that I wasn't allowed to speak to executives. Seriously?

Gen X here to the rescue.

Sandwiched between the much larger Baby Boomer and Millennial generations, Gen Xers are often overlooked. Please allow me to build a bridge to the opportunity ahead.

For me, the generation challenge is a communications opportunity. And the stakes are high, because we spend about 70% of our day communicating. Within that timeframe, we spend about 45% listening, 30% speaking, 16% reading, and 9% writing.

By 2030, most Baby Boomers will have retired, and approximately 75% of the workforce will be comprised of Millennials. That gives us about a decade to continue working together to create a work environment that is better for women, people of color, and the younger generations.

As a multigenerational workplace scholar, I'm often asked, what is a generation, and why do they matter?

Karl Mannheim, the founder of sociology, concluded that key historical events significantly impact people during their youth. Essentially, when you were born and what was happening where you lived during your formative childhood years, help define what is important to you and help set your value system.

Think of it this way, if the games you played growing up allowed you to advance to the next level regardless of if it took one attempt or fifty, you might have a different perspective on what mastering a task looks like than someone who didn't.

If technology has almost always allowed you to be more efficient, you may seek to perform a job as quickly as possible, so that you are being productive, not because you are looking for a short cut.

If the answer to any question was always a Google search away, you might get frustrated when your questions go unanswered and are told to figure it out.

These examples begin to explain why Baby Boomers and Millennials value different things. However, there are always going to be outliers. I study generational-related values, because they frame how we show up and what we expect when we come to work.

In my recent study of 1,400 Baby Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z women, I examined strategies for communicating. I was particularly interested in interpersonal communications — the process by which people exchange information, feelings, and meaning through verbal and non-verbal messages. It turns about that the most essential characteristics by generation were active listening (paying attention to others), collaboration (teamwork), and empathy (showing understanding for others).

Baby Boomers believe they are best at "paying attention to others."

Given our hectic schedules at work, you may be tempted to multitask while speaking or try to get by gleaning the gist of a conversation in a conference call while working on a report at the same time. But this isn't deeply effective. Active listening is crucial because being highly engaged in a conversation helps everyone involved have clarity and alignment on the exchange. It also helps build rapport and trust between participants.

Some practical ways to demonstrate active listening include:

  • Asking specific questions or paraphrasing what you've heard
  • Using non-verbal cues such as making eye contact and not looking at your device
  • Maintain body language that shows you are interested and the speaker has your full attention

Gen X believes they are best at "working with others."

Lots of us have heard the expression, "There's no 'I' in a team." Teams that collaborate well have a better chance for sustained and repeatable success.

Effective ways to demonstrate collaboration are:

  • Establishing clear goals and expectations for the team
  • Being accountable for the team and yourself
  • Providing and being open to feedback

Both Millennials and Gen Z believe they are most effective at "showing understanding for others."

The workplace is more diverse than ever before. Some organizations may have a Baby Boomer, a Gen Xer, Millennial, and a Gen Zer, all working alongside each other. By showing empathy, we can demonstrate that we appreciate and respect each other's perspectives and are open to understanding how they feel about a situation, idea, or concept.

Effective ways to demonstrate empathy are:

  • Listening without judging or forming an opinion
  • Being slow to criticize
  • Acknowledging the other person's feelings as valid for them

So, instead of dismissing a generation with a hashtag, try to open a dialogue. For example, next time you are working with a Baby Boomers demonstrate that you are actively listening to what they are saying. Try sending a summary email about your deliverables on an assignment to Gen Xers to highlight your collaborative skills. And take time to let Millennials and Gen Z know that you appreciate and understand their point of view.

If you'd like to hear more on this subject, you can listen to my recent Ted Talk here: