The guest blog post below was written by Heather Tomko, sharing her experience in the Ms. Wheelchair USA 2018 pageant. She is the reigning Ms. Wheelchair USA in addition to being a public health researcher and masters student. Heather is a lifelong Pittsburgh resident and lives with SMA Type II.
Being in a pageant is not something that I ever pictured myself doing. That’s not to say that I’ve never been attracted to the glitz and the glamour of it, but I never knew that it was something that was even an option for me. But when one of my friends e-mailed me the link for Ms. Wheelchair USA, it was something that I instantly knew I had to do.
Applying for the state-level of the pageant involved filling out an application, getting letters of recommendation sent in, and crossing my fingers and waiting! When I got the exciting news that I had been chosen as Ms. Wheelchair PA USA and I’d move on to Nationals, the reality started setting in. There were events and appearances to be at, sponsorships to obtain, dresses to buy, and hotel rooms to book! Looking over the schedule for the week was overwhelming and exciting at the same time.
Before I knew it, pageant week had arrived. The week itself was a bit of a whirlwind – the other nine women and I made appearances all around Stow, Ohio while we got to know each other. It was a little surprising how quickly we all bonded, and a culture shock when the pageant was over and we all had to go back to our “normal” lives. It sounds very cliché, but I could have imagined any of the women winning the crown, but I am incredibly excited to have the chance to make my mark.
I was diagnosed with SMA Type II when I was around a year old, and I’ve been using a wheelchair for as long as I can remember. That means that for as long as I can remember, there have been things that are inaccessible to me. I’m almost 30 years old now, and accessibility-wise, I feel like not much has changed in those 30 years. This is what I’m hoping to change during my year’s reign as Ms. Wheelchair USA. I want to work towards making accessibility a consideration from the outset, rather than an afterthought, so that people with SMA (and other disabilities) have greater access to what everyone else does.
To follow along with me during my reign, you can “like” my official Facebook page – “Heather Tomko – Ms. Wheelchair USA 2018.” I also write a blog, The Heather Report, where I’ll be hosting guest posts throughout the month of August by others living with SMA to celebrate SMA Awareness Month.
Follow Heather and Ms. Wheelchair USA on social media!