“Sensational. A Five Star Experience.”
We left Oakland airport around 6:30 am. During a brief Layover in Chicago, where I happily ran into Carrie Greenwood and Mary Zendejas my MWA Advisor. Carrie, this state coordinator for Kansas, has participated in Nationals several times and assured me this would be an unforgettable experience.
Mary Zendejas advised several state titleholders and she nick named us the Fab Five + 1.
It was incredible to arrive in Grand Rapids and be greeted by a volunteer for the MWA. We felt like rock stars as they assisted us with our luggage and we made our way outside. Once outside Mary was asking me about my WHILL Power Chair and how fast could go. We decided the best way to find out would be to race each other! Her sister Lupita recorded it while her and other bystanders looked on amused. Mary called it ‘The Wheel Fast and the Furious.’ I loved it! The New Mobility van arrived and Craig helped us load everything on before whisking us away to the Amway Grand Plaza.
The area was gorgeous with yogurt shops, pubs and beautiful street art.
One of the largest art festivals in the US is held each year in Grand Rapids known as ArtPrize.
ArtPrize is an open, independently organized international art competition which takes place for 19 days each fall in Grand Rapids, Michigan. More than five hundred thousand dollars in prizes are awarded each year, which include a $200,000 prize awarded entirely by public vote and another $200,000 prize awarded by a jury of art experts! Working for Meijer over the last 2 years I’ve received thousands of calls about the ArtPrize festivities.
As we entered the hotel, Mary who has been there before, said that she would love to get married in the Amway Grand Plaza because it’s so gorgeous. She wasn’t kidding! The hotel was breathtaking.
We were all pretty exhausted and were excited to finally be in our room with two fresh fluffy queen size beds to rest and decide on what to do for dinner. Steven, our bell hop, made a fantastic suggestion about a restaurant not too far from the hotel that serves the most amazing chicken Parmesan.
Monday we jumped right into official competition mode! From sunup to sundown the schedule was; breakfast, workshops, interviews, lunch, more workshops, more interviews and then dinner. You would have imagined every queen was racing back to her room to try to get some much needed rest! However we found ourselves lingering after dinner, taking pictures, admiring each other’s costumes and excitedly discussing the days events!
The workshops were fantastic. We learned everything from how to prevent pressure sores to creating a savings account to provide some financial flexibility. Getting to know the Queen’s and their companions and family and their kids was beautiful! Before I knew it, it was time for the grand finale! Friday came around in the blink of an eye but I was ready!
After lunch on Friday we had the chance to attend an expo with the companies that worked with us in the workshops. I even have the opportunity to shoot a quick promo video for AbleNow with their representative Sarah Pennington. The vendors also included a masseuse, a law office, a Jewelry designer and more. I found a lot of fantastic information at the expo on how to fight ADA infractions, hire caregivers, and there was even a fantastic crew cleaning power chairs who cleaned and detailed WHILL for me. Set up beside the crew who were cleaning chairs, I found a company selling flavored honey sticks. I drink a lot of tea every day to help prevent UTIs as I do use catheters. I bought 4 coconut and 2 peach honey sticks and they were delicious!
After the Expo, my employer and sponsor Meijer, were fantastic and made all the arrangements to pick me up from the hotel to take me to their headquarters just a few miles away from. There I got to meet with my supervisor Lori, my trainer Faith, as well as the buying team and a few of the other employees. A huge thank you to Leah Lewis who came to pick my sister Robyn and I up. Leah, a local, told us all about Grand Rapids on our drive to Meijer headquarters.
The Meijer team was amazing and they even let me practice my speech while I was there.
Before leaving, they gave my sister and I what can only be described as a swag bag packed by the snack gods! The bag included fantastic snacks as well as nutritional cookbooks, sunglasses and even a stainless steel tumbler. If I’m being honest, the most amazing and delicious thing were the bags of cookie dough marshmallows.
During dinner that night I thought against the wall practicing my speech and each time I would get almost halfway through and burst into tears. I know the whole thing will be over soon and my emotions were really starting to take over me. Luckily, Robyn my sister, was by my side to slap me across my face, and tell me to get it together! Just kidding but she did help me get a grip.
With my good friend Jennifer Kumiyama as the nights host, I knew everything would be amazing.
I delivered my speech relaxed and with the profound feeling that I was in a room full of people who believed in me and supported my mission. As I left the stage, Jennifer joked that the thigh high royal blue crushed velvet boots I was wearing, I had borrowed from her!
The entire crowd laughed and it was a fantastic were to break the intense energy in the room.
After speech night I found myself with Ms. Wheelchair Connecticut, Ms. Wheelchair Texas, Mary Zendejas, Ms. Wheelchair Louisina and Jennifer Kumiyama celebrating at a Sports bar across the street.
The atmosphere was warm and loving. We could all finally let her hair down and relax a bit as the hardest part was over.
By chance we ran into a local who was injured in a car accident several years ago. She was delighted and amazed to find so many women in wheelchairs and power chairs in her neighborhood. We chatted for a bit before posing for a few joy-filled pictures. It’s amazing how good community can feel.
Saturday was crowning nights, when my name was called last for the top five I’ve finally breathe a sigh of relief! It’s really didn’t matter to me what the outcome was however I did want to place in the top 10. In the end, I came in 2nd Runner Up for the Ms. Wheelchair America 2019 competition.
When I look back now, it’s all a sparkly, sequin-covered blur! And yes, Carrie was right. It was one of the most empowering, and impactful experiences I’ve ever had in my life.
And enormous thank you to Dr. Alette, Susan Rotchy, Cai Phillips-Jones, and the incomparable Rosie Humphery! The work that you do for the California program is beyond incredible and generous. I want you to know that I appreciate every word of advice, wardrobe suggestions, every photograph every blog edit, ALL OF IT- THANK YOU