Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Farewell Address...

Farewell from Kristen McCosh, Ms Wheelchair America 2008

Dream Come True
Where should I begin? Becoming Ms Wheelchair America 2008 has been like a dream come true. I feel so honored to have been selected as a leader among an incredible field of women. I never could have imagined the journey I would be embarking on last July when I arrived at the pageant. It has been a year I’ll never forget…

Women of Strength
At the Ms Wheelchair America 2008 Pageant last summer, I had the incredible opportunity to meet women from all across America who use wheelchairs for their daily mobility. We truly bonded during our week together, and many of us have established life-long friendships. It was so empowering to hear about the other contestants’ personal platforms and learn about all of the great work they were doing in their home states. We had such diversity among us: career women, stay-at-home moms, graduate students, dancers, teachers, writers, and more... What an incredible display of talent! After I became the national titleholder, I was given the chance to travel throughout the country to speak about the accomplishments of these women of strength. As I ventured out proudly on my reign, I met even more successful, dynamic women with disabilities than I ever even knew existed. I met women from every corner of the United States who are active and involved in politics, parenting, recreation and work – and they are making a significant impact on the disability community. It was a thrilling, invigorating experience.

On The Road
My first trip was to sunny Southern California for the Tournament of Roses. I got to meet the Rose Queen and her Court; I was allowed a back-stage pass to tour the floats for the Rose Parade as they were being built; and I got a front-row seat at the parade. During my visit to Pasadena, I worked to connect MWA with representatives of the Kiwanis Organization, and together we made history! Next year – for the first time ever – Ms Wheelchair America will not just be at the Rose Parade, she will be in the Rose Parade!

Next I visited frosty but friendly Deadwood, South Dakota for the annual Ski For Light event. What fun! I got a tour of the historic old Western town where Wild Bill Hickok once lived; I got to see the faces on Mt. Rushmore; and I participated in a few downhill ski runs. The Ski For Light group was fantastic! They are upbeat, fun, and they even showed me a few “wheelie” moves on the saloon dance floor. I can’t wait to go back next year…

Then I was off to Tucson, Arizona where I gave the keynote speech at the Disabled Divaz fashion show. I got to meet all of the runway models, who were so beautiful on the inside as well as the outside! It was my first time down the catwalk, so I got a few pointers from the women who had been preparing for the show for months. Kudos to them all…

My final trip was to the Little League World Challenger Jamboree in Virginia Beach. Here I met family members, friends and volunteers who were dedicated to children with disabilities. The kids beamed when they saw my crown, and one mother told me her daughter said that she wanted to be Ms Wheelchair America when she grew up. The children were priceless and precious!

Opportunity for Advocacy
Besides having a chance to inspire and empower women, I also got to advocate for vital programs and services that facilitate success and independence for individuals with disabilities. Last November, I interviewed Senator Hillary Clinton at a Presidential Primary Election. I told her about the importance of health care, economic opportunity, and medical research for those living with disabilities. In the spring, I went to Washington DC as a guest of AA Homecare to advocate for home care, medical equipment and DME supplies to allow people to remain living in the community rather than being forced into facilities. In my home state of Massachusetts, I rallied on Beacon Hill with other advocates to ensure protection of the “Community First Act” and other legislation. I had the chance to do a lot of outreach on my MWA ’08 platform as well: Physical Fitness for People with Disabilities. I attended several Expos and Conferences where I presented workshops on exercise and nutrition, and I taught wheelchair aerobics sessions to people of all ages – from young kids to seniors – they loved working out! And I loved interacting with all of them.

During the course of my reign, I was able to spread my message of Leading by Example across America. By this statement I mean simply, if I can do it, you can too! I did so much outreach about my passions: fitness, travel, employment, mentoring, literacy, and more. I got many people with disabilities to join exercise and nutrition programs. One woman wrote to me that she lost 22 pounds after she followed my example! Another young girl shared her writing with me – and later she got it published! And of course the highlight of my reign will always be securing MWA’s place in the Tournament of Roses Parade.

My travels are now at an end, and I am both happy and sad to hand over my crown. It seemed like each place I visited, I met a former “Ms Wheelchair somebody“ from one state or another, and I ended up making a very long list of new friends. We all have had our time to reign, and now it is time for me to sit back and cheer on the incumbent.

I am a proud wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, peer mentor, advocate, and woman with a disability, and I will always be proud to have been named Ms Wheelchair America 2008.

Thank you.