My husband Mike and I have a daughter, Nicole Kelly, who is the current Miss Iowa title holder through the Miss America Scholarship Pageant. –Pretty incredible, especially since the Miss Iowa Pageant was the second pageant she’d ever entered in her 23 years! But then, Nicole has always been one to try everything, from softball and dance team to lifeguarding and theater. By the time she won the Miss Iowa title last June she’d even worked on a Tony Award-Winning Broadway Show in New York City. This young lady has plenty of drive and determination. But that’s just part of her story!
Back in May of 1990 my husband Mike and I were excitedly awaiting Nicole’s birth. We’d already been blessed with a girl and a boy, and my first two pregnancies had been normal and easy. I felt no different this time around, so when Nicole was born missing her left hand and forearm we were shocked, sad and even a bit scared. Other than this very obvious difference, she was just fine (and absolutely sweet and adorable). And thus began our lessons in the true definitions of the words “handicapped” and “disabled”.
“Handicapped” in Webster’s Dictionary means “physically disabled”. “Disabled” is “made powerless or incapacitated”. I must admit, when Nicole was a baby we did think that both of these words applied to her. How would she ever learn to do even simple things like ride a bike or tie her shoes? Yet, as she grew older and her personality began to emerge we soon learned that there was absolutely NOTHING this child could not do, and we encouraged her to try any activity that tapped her interests.
Strangely enough, time also taught us that Nicole’s biggest “handicap” or “disability” was that people who didn’t know her immediately assumed her to be unable to do things and thus initially treated her differently. Nicole has gracefully learned to put people at ease simply by being herself, which in turn makes people eventually forget about her difference. After all, we all have something which sets us apart and makes us unique and special—Nicole’s ‘unique and special’ is just a bit more obvious than most! Nicole has taught us to accept and even celebrate personal differences as we have become stronger and more compassionate people.
Powerless? Incapacitated? Nicole is one of the most able people I know. The words “I can’t” are not in her vocabulary. Her role as Miss Iowa has blessed her with an incredible voice to share her story and empower others. Daily Nicole is redefining the words “handicapped” and “disabled” as she speaks throughout Iowa and the country. Powerful!