Among them was a contestant representing the Sooner State, Jesa Lopez.
She participated in a leadership institute and mentoring events. The contestants were judged on platform speech presentations, interviews and onstage questions.
Although she didn’t win the title and sparkly crown, the Oklahoma City resident did not return empty-handed. Lopez received the Nicki Ard Achievement Award for having a positive attitude and serving others.
She retains the Ms. Wheelchair Oklahoma title until April 2013, when the next winner is selected.
The event proved a transformative experience for Lopez, age 33.
“This was the most incredible, empowering women’s leadership conference,” she said. “It was an intense, emotional week competing for the national title.”
Nearly 30 contestants from across the country came together.
“With this group of women, it didn’t feel like a competition at all,” Lopez said. “It was more like a group of friends gathering to build a voice for one group.”
They celebrated the glamour, self-confidence and community service leadership of women with disabilities.
“Besides the fact that we all had a disability and we all used a wheelchair,” Lopez said, “we checked out each other’s shoes every day commenting on the great taste and choice of footwear.”
At one point in her life, she would have preferred to wear dancing shoes. She dreamed of becoming a professional dancer and even auditioned to join a touring dance troupe.
Then, at 16, a spinal-cord injury from a car accident left her permanently paralyzed.
“It has been a long road and it has taken 16 years [since the accident] to fully accept that I will never walk again,” said Lopez.
She now volunteers at Aspiring Attitudes, where she helps children with disabilities learn to dance. She said that by sharing her experiences, she hopes she can make a difference in others’ lives. What she hopes to communicate most is that one’s spirit can still soar despite tragedy and obstacles.
“I have realized that even though I can’t do all the things I did before my accident, I can still do many of them,” Lopez said. “Just differently.”