Behind the Scenes of the Ms. Wheelchair America Competition

By Ali Ingersoll, Ms. Wheelchair America 2033

Competition is natural. We all want to be the best at what we do and be rewarded for our efforts. Regardless of what competition may be afoot in your life, we are taught at a young age in our society to work harder and strive to break so many glass ceilings.

As I was driving from Raleigh, North Carolina to Grand Rapids, Michigan to compete in Ms. Wheelchair America 2023 as I was the current title holder for Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina 2022, I had my game face on. I was excited to meet all the other contestants, but this was a competition. The mission for all of us was to win or so I thought. A week later the question I should have been asking myself was "win what?"

Ms. Wheelchair America 2023 Winner Al Ingersoll

Winning the Ms. Wheelchair America crown was only part of the experience

I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2023 and am so incredibly honored to have been so. But little did I know while driving a 14-hour journey down unfamiliar roads and interstates to the middle of the country that this competition, in particular, is far from being about just winning a title and bragging rights.

I "won," but not in the way you might think. For anyone with a significant mobility impairment resulting in lifetime wheelchair use, life is not only challenging, but can be a lonely one if you do not have a network of fantastic human being's surrounding you to understand what you have to deal with on a daily basis.

Within two hours of the competition at our welcome dinner, there was a singular moment when I stopped and looked around the beautifully decorated room with 21 of my competitors listening intently to what the next week would entail for each of us.

Ms. Wheelchair America 2023 Winner Al Ingersoll
with contestants

I immediately thought to myself, "This is it. I've already won. Every one of these women has gone to great lengths to raise money, travel tirelessly around the country and have each engaged in various advocacy/inclusion initiatives. I am surrounded by disability rockstar advocates all in one room!"

The sheer grit, determination, passion and fortitude each of us had to put forward to be the room was quite literally awe-inspiring. I knew that a majority of these impressive women were going to be friends for life and a handful of us are already working on projects just six weeks after the competition.

Connecting with extraordinary women with disabilities was the real prize

There's something about disability camaraderie that stands out in my mind. Whether you have a disability now or will acquire one later in life as you age, it is a club that no one wishes to join, but is a tribe of some of the most tenacious and kindhearted people I know. Disability doesn't discriminate and disability is such a nonpartisan issue that requires many inclusive solutions with stakeholders from every echelon within our community, business and government.Ms. Wheelchair America 2023 Winner Al Ingersoll
with contestants

We had quite a packed schedule. While competitors in other competitions unrelated to disability may have hidden their challenges, we did not. For example, most of us had severe thermal regulation issues and a handful of us sent pictures to one another of our heating pads that we would sneak up to our room since they kept the hotel at a frigid temperature during the summer months. We would text, laugh and chat by phone at night after a long day of events.

The week culminated with each of us lining up to give our 2-minute platform speech. We were all huddled up together trying to stay warm, laughing as we were so exhausted, yet compassionately offering help to anyone who needed it.

I've never been part of a competition like this in my life. Disability brings people together despite unforeseen complications at every turn. Ms. Wheelchair America has helped me build a new family, one with bonds that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.

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