Erika Bogan of Concord, N.C., lives by a simple motto: “Anything is possible.”
For the 28-year-old single mother of three paralyzed from the waist down in a 2002 car wreck, it’s true. Bogan was crowned Miss Wheelchair North Carolina on Saturday following a short pageant held in Asheville (Swannanoa, actually) for the first time.
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 Miss Wheelchair America Pageant later this year. The three met with a panel of three judges for individual interviews, then publicly stated their platforms and answered another question from a judge during the main event.
Bogan talked about increasing resources and awareness for people with disabilities. Thomas, who said after the contest that she was the first person to graduate from Mitchell High School in a wheelchair, talked about her desire to end her pet peeve — regular people parking in handicapped parking spaces. And Higgins said she hoped to urge on new role models and volunteerism. “Just point us in the right direction and we’ll be rolling,” Higgins said to a round of applause.
In a meeting room at the Holiday Inn Biltmore East in Swannanoa, the reigning Miss Wheelchair North Carolina, Brandee Ponder of Weaverville handed Bogan a dozen red roses, a pin and a tiara. Ponder wished Bogan luck with her crown. It was clear that the pageant was as much about mutual support and respect as declaring a winner.
“These girls have been absolutely amazing,” Ponder said 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.”
Click the photo to watch an audio slideshow of the Miss Wheelchair North Carolina 2009 ceremony.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor