PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Jessica Littlefield admitted this week that when she was first paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident in 2005, she withdrew from the world a bit and did not leave her home as much as she did before the accident.
Now the 26-year-old student at the University of Maine at Presque Isle is ready to show that people in wheelchairs can accomplish as much as everyone else, including shining in the national spotlight.
Littlefield, a sophomore recreation and leisure major at UMPI, will serve as Ms. Wheelchair Maine.
She is working to raise $3,000 in donations so she can attend the Ms. Wheelchair America event to be held this August in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The Ms. Wheelchair America competition provides an opportunity for women who are wheelchair users to educate and advocate for the more than 52 million Americans living with disabilities, according to the organization’s website.
The competition selects the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for people with disabilities to serve as Ms. Wheelchair America. Through criteria involving advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation, Ms. Wheelchair America must demonstrate an ability to communicate both the needs and the accom-plishments of her constituency to the general public, the business community and lawmakers.
“I first learned about Ms. Wheelchair America a few years ago in a spinal cord injury newsletter,” Littlefield said in an interview Tuesday. “I didn’t enter right away. I thought about it for a few years and then decided that I wanted to take part.”
Littlefield entered her name with the Ms. Wheelchair America organization, and since so far there has been no competition in Maine, she will be the state’s representative in the national competition. At this point, 29 contestants are scheduled to take part in the competition to be held Aug. 9-15.
Littlefield suffered a spinal cord injury at age 21 after a serious accident on Interstate 95 near Waterville. She has never been in any type of pageant before, but said the national competition is not a typical beauty pageant.
“It’s more about inner beauty than it is outer beauty,” she said. “There is no swimsuit or talent competition. There is a formalwear competition, and we are judged on interview skills and we have to do a platform speech.”
Littlefield has begun preparing for the competition by honing her interview skills and working on her platform speech, which she said will focus on the importance of recreation and leisure in everyday life. Her sister Briana White, 20, who has 13 beauty pageants under her belt, is helping her prepare for the national competition.
Ms. Wheelchair America was organized in 1972 by Dr. Philip K. Wood of Columbus, Ohio. The nonprofit program, which consists of state coordinators and state titleholders, has grown to include programs in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia.
After she participates in the national event, Littlefield is required to start a Ms. Wheelchair Maine program so that someone will be able to take over her reign in 2011.
“I am looking forward to this because it gives me a chance to show that people in wheelchairs can do just as much as everyone else,” she said. “I am still the same person that I was before the accident. Just because someone’s in a wheelchair doesn’t mean they have to stop living their lives.”
To assist Littlefield in starting up a Ms. Wheelchair Maine pageant, contact her at 227-8591. To make a donation so she can attend the national competition, send a check to: Jessica Littlefield, 37 Dupont Drive, Presque Isle 04769. To learn more about Ms. Wheelchair America, visit www.mswheelchairamerica.org.