In June of last year, 23-year-old Nicole Kelly of Davenport, Iowa, won the Miss Iowa beauty pageant, and went on to represent her state at the Miss America pageant last September in Atlantic City. But no matter how you feel about beauty pageants — whether you consider them an entertaining showcase for female talent or a sexist exercise in objectifying women — you had to root for Nicole.
Because Nicole Kelly is different from any other beauty pageant winner. She earned her crown though she was born with only one complete arm. From birth, Nicole has been missing her left arm from the elbow down.
Now she has started a campaign she calls, “Power Of One,” aimed at inspiring kids with disabilities to pursue their dreams — and at educating parents of those children to help with that inspiration.
“Meeting the parents of amputee and physically differently-abled children has been a shocking experience at times,” she told Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. “I had assumed everyone else’s parents would be like mine, but many are far more concerned about limiting their child’s lives to protect them from harm.”
She says that as she was growing up, her “outgoing personality” helped her get past the stares other subjected her to every day, and she refused to be told there was any activity that would be top difficult for her.
“I tried everything. From baseball, to dance, to diving — there is nothing I would not try,” she said. “I found my passion within a world where I was giving people permission to stare – the stage.”
Before competing in — and beating out hundreds of other contestants to win — the Miss Iowa pageant, Nicole completed an internship working with Broadway stage managers. She is now studying to be a stage manager on the Great White Way herself, when she’s not traveling around telling her own uplifting story.
She graduated from the University of Nebraska in 2012 with a theater degree. She’s so smitten with Broadway that in the Miss Iowa “talent” competition, she sang the tune “Defying Gravity” from the hit musical Wicked, a song that both seems to fitting for her own life, as well as fulfilling her passion for the Broadway.
“She defies all of it. There’s nothing she can’t do,” Miss Iowa’s mom told CBS News. “I think it’s great she’s going to be able to prove that and encourage others that may have a disability or some sort of challenge.”
Maybe Miss Iowa didn’t win the Miss America crown last year, but we can’t think of a better American story.