I never thought I would be a pageant mom. Our first child is a boy; he played soccer, baseball, and football. And then our daughter came along. We knew before she was born that she had spina bifida, a birth defect responsible for her paraplegia. The first 3 years of her life were rough. She had 13 surgeries and many more hospitalizations. So uncertain, we kept overnight bags, packed, in our closet, never knowing when she would be hospitalized next.
After Izabella, Izzi, turned 3, her health issues were resolved, and she was a typical 3-year-old. She loved all things princess-y. Our little girl STILL loves all things glittery so when the opportunity arose, she pleaded to compete in the “Little Miss” portion of the local Miss Missouri pageant. Come to find out, the venue was not wheelchair accessible, and Izzi was unable to participate. Disappointed, until we realized the proverbial door to educate on inclusion had just been opened. As a result, the following year’s application process posed a question pertaining to “special needs.”
Soon after, our family happened to be watching the HBO movie, Miss You Can Do It. It follows Abbey Curran, Miss Iowa USA 2008, as she develops the nationwide pageant for girls with physical and intellectual challenges. Curran lives with cerebral palsy. Diagnosed at two, Curran, along with her family, never allowed this medical condition to interfere with her dreams and aspirations, including competing in the Miss USA pageant. Today, she continues to encourage and enthuse other young ladies through the nonprofit she established Miss You Can Do It and directs its annual pageant.
Inspired and motivated, Izzi competed in 2 pageants, in 2017 and 2018, and unsurprisingly to us, she won a pair of awards: her 1st - “Best Stage Speaking” and her 2nd - “Best Private Interview”. In 2019, we were introduced to the Miss Amazing pageant, a nationwide pageant for young ladies with physical and intellectual challenges. Izzi soaked up every moment of it. She loves the stage, and it lights up with her on it. Above all else, she loves meeting people and making friends. Always has. When Izzi competed in 2020, she won her division, Miss Pre-teen Missouri. In the summer of 2021, we will be spending a few days in Nashville while she represents Missouri and competes for the National title.
I feel, as a parent and educator, it is of utmost importance for all children to learn to advocate for themselves, regardless of their challenges. From the time Izzi started school, she has advocated for herself, through the educational, medical, and political systems. Yes, Izzi and I have testified in front of numerous legislative committees in Jefferson City, Missouri, which is where I witnessed, firsthand, that my daughter is intimidated by no one all while maintaining her kindness, respect, and compassion for everyone.
In 2019, Izzi received THE invitation; one for an open call with the National American Miss pageant, a program based on the foundational principle of fostering positive self-image by enhancing natural beauty within. A competition finally between her peers. A challenge Izzi accepted and nailed. She then received her invitation to compete in Columbia, Missouri, and after 2 days of competition, Izzi solidified her state finalist position by being in the top 10% of contestants. More importantly, she was in an inclusive environment, something that Izzi and our family advocate for every chance we have.
Izzi experiences inclusion at her school and church, yet we want her to experience inclusion wherever she goes. We want her peers to see her as she sees herself, as an equal!
Our family’s belief about inclusion mirrors that of a free website connecting people with various needs to services, resources, and referrals including those for disabilities, mental health and aging; "When children with disabilities are excluded from participation in ordinary environments, children without disabilities have no opportunities to get to know them, to see them as their peers/equals, and/or to see beyond the disability. Thus, they are ignorant that children with disabilities are children, first, and are more like them than different." And, although, I never imagined myself as a pageant mom, THIS is why I am one.
Izzi dreams BIG. She dreams of Broadway and her dream is being paved by her current role model, Ali Stroker, the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award. Stroker earned Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her turn as Ado Annie in the widely celebrated revival of “Oklahoma” in 2019. Izzi “met” Stroker during The Rollettes Experience, a weekend of virtual dance classes, speakers, and panels for young ladies who use wheelchairs and recently enjoyed watching her in the Lifetime original movie, Christmas Ever After. In this holiday movie, Stroker plays popular romance novelist Izzi Simmons. The virtual meeting combined with the movie has sparked the imagination and spirit of my Izzi to begin writing her own book!
Izzi will compete at the National American Miss pageant in Branson this July 2021. In August, she will compete at the National Miss Amazing pageant in Nashville. Being a pageant mom is way out of my comfort zone, but it’s worth it! Izzi was BORN to do this. She is pursuing HER dreams. HER star is bright. And HER journey continues to build the confident advocate for inclusion whose inward beauty sparkles brighter than her outward beauty! -Becki Uccello
For questions or more information on how to sponsor this rising star please reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook @izziliving2021, and Instagram @izziliving2021