Sunday, October 24, 2010

Beauty queen with CP tells kids their dreams can come true

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Sometimes the biggest motivation comes from those who don’t believe something is possible.

Just ask Abbey Curran (pictured), who proved several teachers wrong. One told her she couldn’t start her own cosmetics company. Another told her a contestant with a disability would never win a beauty pageant.

Curran — Miss Iowa 2008 — did both.

“I want you guys to realize something very important. And that is anything is possible. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says,” she told Hill Middle School students during an assembly Wednesday.

Her visit to Hill was just one stop on a whirlwind tour of several District 204 schools that took place the last two days while the guest of the Indian Prairie Special Needs PTA. By the end of Wednesday, she will have visited Metea Valley High School, Still, Hill, Granger and Fischer middle schools, and Peterson, Owen, Gombert, Clow, Georgetown, McCarty and Kendall elementary schools.

At each school, Curran spoke with students and teachers about some of the challenges she has faced all her life, having been born with cerebral palsy. She was diagnosed when she was 2 years old, when she would start to walk but not let go of furniture. Now she walks with an escort.

“I do wish that I didn’t walk the way that I do, just because it would give me more independence,” Curran said when a student asked how she came to accept her condition. “But it’s also given me a different perspective of life and made me look at things differently. And I think I would be a completely different person if I didn’t walk this way.”

Originally from Kewanee, she now is a senior at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. When she graduates in May, Curran will be a physician’s assistant. She didn’t start competing in pageants until she was a teenager. She was 16 when she created her own cosmetics company, Curran’s Cosmetics, after a teacher told her she couldn’t.

“I used to want to be Mary Kay Ash, and (the teacher) was like, ‘No way, you could never do that.’ So I set out to prove her wrong, and I did,” she said.

She hired a chemist, and they worked to develop products, which she then sold.

“If one of your teachers continuously told you that you couldn’t do something, wouldn’t you get very angry and want to prove them wrong?” she said. “So that’s what I guess I did.”

After a teacher told Curran she couldn’t be Henry County Fair queen, she decided to compete, “and I ended up really loving it.”

She competed from 2004 to 2008, and at age 20, she entered the Miss Iowa contest, thinking it would be her last pageant. As the top 10, then five and finally two contestants were named, she was surprised to hear her name called each time.

“And they crowned me Miss Iowa, and my dream came true,” she said. “Miss Iowa pageant was absolutely incredible. And Miss USA was even better. I got to live with Donald Trump and 50 other contestants in Las Vegas, so that was really, really exciting “

Curran made history in 2008 when she competed in the Miss USA pageant. She was the first and only contestant with a challenge, she said.

Before the competition, though, there was a point when her excitement from winning Miss Iowa turned to devastation. People she didn’t know began e-mailing her and telling her it was too bad she couldn’t compete in the national pageant, as all contestants had to walk on stage by themselves.

“I was blessed because the Trump organization called me and told me that was not true,” she said. “I had a very handsome escort who held on to my arm.”

After competing in the Miss USA, Curran founded the national nonprofit “Miss You Can Do It” pageant for girls with special needs and challenges.

“I’m truly amazed what you’ve done,” sixth-grader Madison Grezlik told Curran after the assembly.

Several students stopped Curran on her way out of the room to ask for photos and autographs.

“I think she inspired people with disabilities that if they put their mind to it, they can do whatever they want,” sixth-grader Khala Whitfield said. “And what other people say doesn’t really matter.”