Concord, N.C., resident Erika Bogan lives by a simple motto: “Anything is possible.”
Paralyzed from the waist down in a 2002 car wreck, the 28-year-old single mother of three saw that belief confirmed on April 18, when she was crowned Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina following a short pageant held in Swannanoa. It was the first time the event has come to the Asheville area.
Bogan and two other contestants—Meritta Thomas, 37, of Spruce Pine and Teresa Higgins, 54, of Burlington—competed for the right to represent the state in the Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant later this year. After individual interviews with a panel of three judges, the three moved on to the main event, publicly stating their platforms and answering another question posed by a judge.
Bogan talked about providing more resources for people with disabilities and expanding awareness of their needs. Thomas, who noted after the contest that she was the first person to graduate from Mitchell High School in a wheelchair, spoke of her desire to end her pet peeve: unauthorized people parking in spaces set aside for those with impairments. Higgins, meanwhile, said she hoped to encourage new role models and increased volunteerism. “Just point us in the right direction, and we’ll be rolling,” she proclaimed to a round of applause.
In a meeting room at the Holiday Inn Biltmore East in Swannanoa, the reigning Miss Wheelchair North Carolina, Weaverville resident Brandee Ponder, handed Bogan a dozen red roses, a pin and a tiara. And as Ponder wished Bogan luck with her crown, it was clear that the pageant is as much about mutual support and respect as about declaring a winner.
“These girls have been absolutely amazing,” Ponder noted before the start of the ceremony. “Each brought unique stories and shared them. We all have the same goal: We want to bring awareness to women who utilize wheelchairs. They can accomplish things as well as the able-bodied. Just because we have a disability doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish great things.”