The winner of this year’s Ms. Wheelchair America competition was Hilary Muehlberger of Missouri, making her the first woman from the state to be awarded the title. Hilary has a T12 spinal cord injury from a car accident that she was in during September of 2015. Just 5 months after her accident she was living on her own in an apartment, a testament to her determination of living independently. “It may be the best thing that has ever happened to me. As a result of my injury I have acquired a tribe of people who understands me, sometimes better than I understand myself. I have the opportunity to shine a light on the world of people with disabilities and show that our lives are important and meaningful. Just because our day to day function looks different than the majority of society, don’t count us out.”
Two years after her injury, she discovered a group called The Whole Person, an organization which offers a variety of services to people with disabilities, equipping them with the skills to be confident and independent in life. Here, she found the opportunity to compete in competitive sports, continuing the competitive and active lifestyle she had while growing up. Today she is a competitive tennis player with Kansas City No Coast, where she will compete in the US Open in September.
In addition to competing in sports competitions, Hilary speaks at schools to warn about the dangers of drinking and driving and the importance of wearing your seatbelt. “I have been sober since February 10, 2017 and I get to share that with the world. After speaking at schools, it has become increasingly apparent that we as members of the disability community show the world that living with ANY disability is NOT worst case scenario, it is NOT a fate worse than death. We put our pants on just like everyone else, one leg at a time. Life goes on. We cannot promise your life will be better or worse, but we can promise it will be different. It is up to you to decide what your future looks like, not the stigmas or the statistics, it is up to you.”
The opportunity to compete in Ms. Wheelchair 2020 as an Independent Delegate for Missouri first presented itself after Hilary received an email asking her to apply. Despite her initial hesitations, she was sold on the idea after talking about the organization with last year’s winner Karen Roy and learning about the opportunity to speak to your platform. Hers was focused on achieving independence through adaptive sports. “My hope is to bring adaptive sports programs together to create a larger community of Adaptive Athletes who can in turn reach out to others with disabilities who have an interest in Adaptive Sports. I don’t want anyone to feel like they cannot participate because they live in a rural environment or because they aged out of a program they were involved with as a youth. Sports can be a common denominator, something to talk about, or just an outlet for people. I just want to give back to the community what was so freely given to me.”
Her advice for anyone interested in joining their state program is to “DO IT!” With 23 states being represented during its 48th year in 2019, those involved hope to see all 50 states represented by the 50th year, 2021. “Send an email to a board member, they will get you in touch with your state coordinator. Ask all of your questions. We are all here to support your journey as an advocate. With or without a crown you can be an advocate, but with the Ms. Wheelchair America organization you have the added benefit of a community of women who have your back and push you when the road seems too steep.”
For more information about the organization or about joining your state’s competition, please visit their website here.