Advocating for people with disabilities

Mike McGrath

November 1st and 2nd 2013 were days of great expectation, nerves, excitement and a culmination of life accomplishments coming together as women representing Maryland came to Rockville to compete in the Ms. Wheelchair Maryland Gala which was their 43rd consecutive pageant. Contestants Carolyn Diaz, Sherry Selinske, Shani Watson and Perneita Farrar-Fitzgerald arrived Friday evening to attend the Meet and Greet, designed to allow the women to get to know each other a little, have fun and receive Saturday’s agenda. Saturday began at 9 am with Welcome address from the 16 year veteran State Coordinator for Maryland Robert Watson briefing the ladies on the schedule, imparting words of encouragement to enjoy the day, relax and do their best. Robert said “Everyone here is a winner but today one lady will be elected to represent Maryland for the year at various functions and events and she will also attend the Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant in Longbeach California July, 2014 along with over 30 other women representing their various states”. The ladies presented themselves to the Judges, Jeri Wasco State Coordinator for Ms.Wheelchair DC, Derek Marryshow and Kelvin Hawkins on four separate occasions throughout the day. At 7 pm that evening we first crowned Jr. Miss Wheelchair MD, Dominique Ingram. Then former Ms. Wheelchair Maryland 2013 Patrina Franklin handed off her crown to the newly announced Ms. Wheelchair MD Shani Watson. Carolyn Diaz was announced 1st runner up and in the event Shani is unable to fulfill her duties representing the organization throughout the year, Carolyn would step up and take the title holders responsibilities. Amid cheers from family and friends in the audience photo opportunities ensue and another pageant come’s to a close with Robert and his assistant coordinator Shannon Minnick looking forward to working with Shani this year. The year affords great opportunity to volunteer at functions such as feed the homeless, the Disability Expo held in July down town Silver Spring and using her platform to educate as she travels and speaks on “Inclusion through Accessibility”. Shani described herself as diligent, independent, a motivator, outspoken and sincere.

I never dreamed that I would ever be telling you about my experience at the Ms. Wheelchair MD pageant! After my accident I thought my life would just be depressing sitting in my wheelchair feeling sorry for myself but boy was I ever wrong!

I have been so fortunate to have so many wonderful things happen to me since that fateful night back in 2009!

The pageant was a 2 day event and started Friday evening with a pajama party. We learned how to put on make-up the right way and we each got beautiful bracelets with our names on them! We laughed and just enjoyed each others company. It was really nice being with other people that were close to my age in wheelchairs!

The next morning started around 9 am and I met with the rest of the girls. We had to do our platform speeches. I was a little nervous but I got through it with no problems! I think everyone liked it! We then had to tell President Obama (if we ever had the chance to meet him) what we would like to see changed. I told him I would like to see more funding in schools for drug and alcohol awareness! All the girls did such a good job!

Then I got to put on a beautiful sparkly dress and have my make-up done and my hair done! I felt like a princess! By the time my make-up and hair was done, I looked really nice! I felt really special too! Sometimes those “feeling special” moments are few and far between when you’re in a wheel chair, that’s for sure!

Then we were escorted into the pageant area by a really nice man while the hostess told a little about each of us. Everyone looked so beautiful!! Then the moment of truth! Crowning time! Shannon Minnick crowned me and she said such nice things about me! I am so blessed to know her! My mom cried (as usual) because she was so happy! It was a great moment! A feeling I never thought I’d experience again!

We then had a wonderful dinner while a lot of people came up to me and congratulated me! I was exhausted by the time the night was over with but WOW! What an experience it was! I am really looking forward to my year as Jr. Ms. Wheelchair MD! I know it is going to open so many doors for me! I can’t thank the organization enough for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful experience!!

See you at the Holiday party!! I’ll be the one with the crown and sash on!!

Lea Edgecomb


Lea’s Story

Learn More About Lea’s Story …


Lea’s Photos

"Every breath you take is a second chance to do something amazing" Spoken by Lea Edgecomb to a group of 7th and 8th graders and their parents 2/10/13. My girl is wise beyond her years.

“Every breath you take is a second chance to do something amazing” Spoken by Lea Edgecomb to a group of 7th and 8th graders and their parents 2/10/13. My girl is wise beyond her years.

Though sometimes her strength can be weak, and she wonders if she can keep up the fight, this girl will always push through. She Will be strong.

Though sometimes her strength can be weak, and she wonders if she can keep up the fight, this girl will always push through. She Will be strong.

Me and Morgan in coach Songs class Spirit Day! Seniors baby!

Me and Morgan in coach Songs class Spirit Day! Seniors baby!


Sheila Whitaker resides in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Sheila has Cerebral Palsy. Her hobbies include crafts including needle point, crosswords, shopping, and spending time with friends. Sheila is an MCIL board member, sits on the Anne Arundel County Commission for Disability, and she enjoys advocating for her neighbors. Sheila describes herself as outgoing, friendly, a go-getter, streetwise, and a fighter for needs.