Friday, September 18, 2009

Ms. Wheelchair Georgia celebrates life

From The West Georgian:

Ms. Wheelchair America is not your typical beauty pageant. Unlike traditional beauty pageants, there is no evening gown or swimsuit competition.

Ms. Wheelchair America is a program that recognizes the accomplishments of women who utilize wheelchairs for mobility. The program was organized in 1972 by Dr. Philip K. Wood, an Ohio physician, as a forum for the promotion of the achievements, as well as the needs of people with mobility impairments.

“Ever since that day, life has been a whirlwind of opportunities, but I don’t really need the sash and the crown,” said Katie Rice (pictured), a 23-year-old UWG student and the current reigning Ms. Wheelchair Georgia.

Rice, a junior mass communications major and theatre minor, who transferred from Brenau University, competed in and won Ms. Wheelchair Georgia. She later went on to compete in the 2010 Ms. Wheelchair America pageant last month in South Dakota.

“I had an opportunity to meet some amazing and extraordinary women at the pageant. I was blown away by their stories. They truly are inspirations to me,” said Rice.

She has spina bifida, but says people shouldn’t feel sorry for her. Spina bifida is a birth defect, in which the spine fails to close completely during the first few months of pregnancy.

“People might see me and think I suffer from [spina bifida], but I don’t. I live through it,” said Rice.

Her involvement with the Ms. Wheelchair America program all started when Rice began studying of all people, Tara Connor.

“I know it may sound weird to be studying her, but I had always wondered if there was a Miss America pageant for women with disabilities. As I was searching, I just happened to come across Ms. Wheelchair America, ” said Rice.

For those who may not remember, Tara Connor is the former Miss USA who was relieved of her duties due to allegations of among other things, drug and alcohol use.

From there, it was the beginning of an inspirational journey filled with opportunities, including winning Ms. Wheelchair Georgia.

“It was such a long trip but, it was worth the experience,” said Rice.

Born on Oct. 21, in Atlanta, Rice grew up in Conyers. She is one of four children, with two older sisters and a younger brother.

A former dancer with Full Radius Dance, a company comprised of professional dancers with and without physical disabilities, she is an actress and a singer in her spare time. She is also working on a fashion line, called Fashion-ABLE, for people with disabilities, including costumes for actors with disabilities.

In addition to her extracurricular work, such as sponsoring a child from Ethiopia, to mentoring children with disabilities through the Sparx program at Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta, Rice also works as vice-president of Achievers, an organization that promotes education and awareness of disability issues.

Another project she is working on is a film with Jennifer McCabe called We’re Not Hiding, which is a documentary exploring the subject of women with disabilities from various cultures and their sexuality.

“It’s like Sex and the City, but with a more extraordinary twist,” said Rice.

As her bottle of Coca-Cola explodes everywhere upon opening, Rice reveals with a light chuckle, that with all that she does, there are times where you have to just laugh—even if it is at yourself.

“I can’t take life too seriously. Life is becoming so bleak these days, with all that is going on in the world that you have to find little things to laugh about.”