BUCYRUS, Ohio — It may sound like the name of a beauty pageant but it’s so much more. Ms. Wheelchair America is raising awareness and building better lives for spinal cord injury survivors. In Ohio, Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2020 is hoping to make it her life’s work by making things better for others.
In small-town Bucyrus, located in Crawford County, Laura Sykes is pushing for major change.
“People with disabilities have come a long way since the disabilities rights movement, we still have a long way to go,” she said.
Sykes wants to help those with disabilities. Approximately 350,000 Americans like 27-year-old Sykes deal with the day-to-day challenges associated with spinal cord injuries.
“Things like being able to stroll down your sidewalk you don’t think about. Having automatic doors and even going into small businesses where there’s no room for us to get around," she said.
Sykes was left paralyzed at the age of 21 after a semi-tuck hit her car.
After years of rehab, she’s not only become more independent, but she won the title of Ms.Wheelchair Ohio 2020.
Last weekend, the pageant queen went on to compete at a national level for the title of Ms. Wheelchair America.
She was one of 30 contestants to take part in the week-long competition.
“I want to help ease this transition into a new normal by encouraging, supporting, educating and thus empowering spinal cord injury survivors and their families," Sykes said.
Her speech, which focused on the sudden impact many spinal cord injury survivors experience, helped her earn “The Mercedes Rodriguez Fowler Promising Leader Award” during the pageant.
The award is given to the person who shows great promise and initiative when it comes to mentoring the next generation of advocates, which is exactly what Sykes plans to do.
“People in rural areas don’t have experience with people with disabilities because it’s so uncommon for us to even be in the community because of the inaccessibility,” she said.
To help further her mission, she has a degree in human and social work services. She plans to continue advocating for those with disabilities, with scheduled appearances across the state.
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