Cyndi Leach, Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee 2019, was 3rd runner-up during this year’s Ms. Wheelchair America 2020 competition. At the age of two, Cyndi was left paralyzed as a result of Polio. She grew up seeing the examples set by her father, a WWII veteran who was left paralyzed on his right side after being wounded during the war. He never let his disability effect his life, something he taught to his daughter. “It grew up as common knowledge to me that having a disability was no big thing. You live your life the best you can and do anything you want- you just may have to find a different way to do it.” Cyndi has worked since she was 16, even after her retirement, showing her positive and persevering attitude. Today, she and her family live in a small and supportive community in the mountains of Tennessee.
In 2015, Cyndi was approached by someone who hoped she would compete in Tennessee’s Ms. Wheelchair competition. Though hesitant at first, she competed in 2016 and became 1st runner-up. After staying involved during the following few years, she competed again and won the title of Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee 2019. Her platform, Spread the Hope, was focused on mentoring those who have recently started using wheelchairs, due to newly onset spinal cord injuries or other diagnoses. She helps them to see that their life is by no means over, and in fact can be more rewarding from a wheelchair than it could’ve been without.
She spent her year as Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee doing incredible work, succeeding in her goal of becoming more visible by taking on every opportunity she possibly could. She visited many VA and rehab hospitals throughout the state of Tennessee, sharing stories and encouraging veterans to accomplish their goals. She also had dozens of speaking engagements and other appearances. She’s spoken on the floor at the Tennessee House of Representatives in Nashville to support the Katie Beckett Waiver, which provides financial assistance to families that have children with complex medical needs. She was featured in a promotional video for Permobil and has spoken to Rotary International, whose mission is to eradicate Polio globally. Through opportunities such as these, Cyndi has worked hard to educate the public about the needs and rights of people with disabilities.
Her time during the state’s competition, as well as her advocacy work, helped her succeed in the national competition. About the organization, Cyndi says,
“The Ms. Wheelchair America organization is amazing. All of the women in every state are out there fighting to make life for people with disabilities better in every area. We had 23 contestants and 23 different platforms- over 20 different areas of advocacy were represented. We’re trying to educate walkers and rollers about the things that we are confronted with on a daily basis, making people aware of what life is like in a wheelchair. I can’t say enough about the whole Ms. Wheelchair organization and how they are making lives better.”
Her advice to others is to recognize that your wheelchair is the key to your future. “It’s going to take you where you will let it take you. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by it. Look at it as the key to your freedom, as motivation to get you where you want to go. This has been the most amazing and rewarding year in my life, and I have done some pretty cool things before this. I would never have thought in September of last year that I would go down the roads and have the experiences that I’ve had this year. You just have to roll out there and open yourself up to trying something new. Just step out there and you will be surprised!”
Though her time as Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee 2019 may now be over, she has big plans for the future. “I want to establish a mentorship program in various locations, creating a team of people who are wheelchair users that will visit rehab and VA facilities.” These groups would visit patients on a regular basis, expanding and continuing upon the work that she has done. She will also continue the work she’s been doing for years- speaking at retreats, churches, camps, and to organizations. As a past titleholder, she’ll also be able to give these public and motivational speeches outside of her home state.
To learn more about Cyndi or the Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee organization, please visit their website or Facebook page. For more information about the Ms. Wheelchair America organization, or about joining your state’s competition, please visit their website here.