Shannon Webster has set her eyes on a national title: Ms. Wheelchair America 2017. The 25-year-old Naperville-based woman is no stranger to winning coveted titles. Webster was crowned Naperville Central High School's 2009 homecoming queen and she also served as the Naperville St. Patrick's Day Parade 2010 queen.
As a girl growing in Naperville, Illinois, Webster never allowed her disability to cramp her style.
Although her quest could seem to have the aspects of an anomaly, the reigning 2017 Ms. Wheelchair Illinois looks at winning the national title as an opportunity to merge her strong interest towards empowering individuals with disabilities and encouraging inclusion in the work place.
Webster deems this chance as a "great way" to be the voice of people with disabilities on a bigger platform, especially since she has always been fairly keen about campaigning for them.
At the age of 2, Webster was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy with spastic dysplasia.
She must use braces in order to even walk short distances. For mobility, she uses a wheelchair, and thus qualifies to participate in Ms. Wheelchair America.
The 46th annual Ms. Wheelchair America National Pageant, which is scheduled to take place Erie, Penn from August 14-20, will be open to contestants who are not under 21-year-old.
More and more pageants have deviated their focus from beauty and outward aspect to a women's ability to understand and reason. This pageant started back in 1972 with a focus on women's achievements and advocacy.
Webster attributes her success and current status to all her earlier experience. What she is today reflects her upbringing in Naperville, where her parents decided to move because of her school.
During her Naperville School District 203 education at River Woods Elementary, Madison Junior High, and Naperville Central, her parents worked along with school leaders in the bid to create IEP (individualized education program) for a myriad of services including physical therapy.
Having an IEP didn't put a lid on Webster's desire to be treated like any other student. Lining with this, she participated in every activity, including physical education class.
But much to her chagrin, she failed to do the same when she got to high school as more often than not, she couldn't be on a par with her stronger and faster classmates.
Strictly against being in the adapted PE class, she tried to have a place with the other kids. But everything changed when she met Naperville Central teacher Patricia Adamatis.
Adamatis did not look at students as having a disability in adapted physical education. On the contrary, she looked at the entire situation as a challenge for her to figure out a way to do the same activity other students could do without breaking much of a sweat.
That was exactly the case with Webster.
She was not allowed to give the rock climbing wall or even the high ropes course a shot, Adamatis said. However, they let everyone, regardless of their abilities, try everything.
"If you want to try, I'll figure out a way to do it," Adamatis added.
Adamatis believes she will do great at the pageant since she always has been self-confident and sociable.
Her confidence skyrocketed in high school when Adamatis introduced her to a Segway, which was handed out to the District 203 by a local Lions Club.
That was the first time, she was eye-level with Adamatis. This also helped Webster change her image as that girl in the wheelchair. The Segway catapult her right among the cool kids, and people started treating her differently.
Taking this into consideration, Webster's parents gave her a Segway before she started going to college at Marquette University, where she studied communications and broadcasting.
In 2014, Webster graduated from the Milwaukee school. She currently works at Exelon in Chicago as a recruiting program specialist.
This is an ideal job for Webster as it allows her to empower others while striving to cultivate a spirit of inclusion for individuals with disabilities.
Throughout her week in Pennsylvania, Webster is excited about the workshops and meeting 24 other contestants, who, she believes will have unique stories to tell.
2017 also marks the advent of People's Choice Award. You can vote for your favorite contestant by clicking here.
Each vote costs a dollar and there's no limit to how many times you can vote. The contestant with the most votes will be awarded the People's Choice title.
She will also receive 40 percent of money accumulated for her state's pageant program, while the remaining 60 percent will be given to the Ms. Wheelchair America Personal Care Attendant Fund.
This will cover travel and room, and board costs for those attending the Ms. Wheelchair America titleholder. (Image Credit: lena1790 / Pixabay)