Thursday, March 22, 2012
Allen grad eyes Miss Wheelchair Texas title
Skylar Conover is one of 11 finalists in the Miss Wheelchair Texas competition, set for March 24 in Houston.
In 2005, Lowery Freshman Center student Skylar Conover suddenly collapsed while at school.
A former competitive cheerleader and Allen Tallenette, Conover had experienced unexplained pain since sixth grade. While the collapse was initially thought to be a seizure, an emergency trip to Children's Hospital in Dallas revealed she had suffered a large muscle spasm.
After a series of DNA tests, the cause of the pain and muscle spasm was identified: Conover had muscular dystrophy.
While the news brought Conover's aspirations as a dancer to an end and left her wheelchair bound, it would lead her to find success in what ultimately became her greatest passion -- disability awareness.
Now 22 and an Allen High School graduate, that passion has led Conover to be one of 11 finalists in the Miss Wheelchair Texas competition, set for March 24 in Houston.
The annual competition seeks the state's most articulate and dedicated advocates for disability awareness to select the organization's next spokesperson.
"I always try to see the silver lining with everything, and if I could make a change in one person's life, I have completed my mission," she said.
With three years of experience teaching fellow Texans what it's like to live with physical disabilities, Conover believes she has what it takes for the job.
Conover regularly holds compassion workshops in the Allen area, where visitors can visit up to eight stations offering different "simulations" of life with a particular disability. For example, a visitor might navigate an obstacle course in a wheelchair while holding a tray of food, or attempt to convey a message to another person while holding their own tongue.
The goal of the workshops, Conover said, is to break down the barriers that make people hesitant to approach or have difficulty understanding people with disabilities.
"Stigma comes from not being knowledgable ... If that knowledge was out there, we would get into a more accepting environment," she said.
Conover has also worked with Camp Craig Allen, an organization seeking to build a camp for disabled children and adults, since its inception and participated in the Stride and Ride, a walk for muscular dystrophy research. Her work has even netted her a speaking engagement at Collin College.
Ultimately, it was a friend of hers from Camp Craig Allen -- outgoing Miss Wheelchair Texas Amanda Hall -- that led her to take a shot at the crown.
"It just really inspired me, what the organization does and how it inspires women to advocate for themselves and advocate for other individuals," she said.
Miss Wheelchair Texas started in 1972 as a showcase for the talent and determination of disabled women and a mechanism through which they can become their own advocates, visiting schools to spread awareness of mobility impairment and taking the issues they face to lawmakers in Austin and beyond.
"What we want in the titleholder is a person who not only knows the current issues, but is passionate about helping people with disabilities and also changing the face of people with disabilities within the community; doing away with a lot of the stereotypes and stigmas in the community about disabilities," said Ana Calvo, president of Miss Wheelchair Texas and 2009 titleholder.
Conover said she has been doing extensive research on disability laws and the issues people with disabilities face in Texas to prepare for the competition. Her gown has been selected and her platform speech is written; all that's left is to practice and continue working to finish her senior year at the University of North Texas.
"I'm always running and always busy, but I kind of like it this way," she said.
Calvo said whoever wins the competition, all contestants will leave the event as ambassadors for the organization and its mission in their home communities.
"We think that the best way to further our mission of advocacy ... by broadening the spectrum around Texas, because it's such a large state, and you have to understand not one girl can do it all," she said.
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