FLINT — Olivia LeVoy wanted to be in beauty pageants but wasn't sure if it was physically possible.
At age 4, she was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy type 3, which she described as a neuromuscular disease making her leg, arm and back muscles weak.
She found out about the honor while driving to class at Tyler Junior College.
She said she got caught in traffic on the way, put her truck in park and read an email that contained the news.
“I started bawling my eyes out (and was) ecstatic (and) screaming,” she said. “It was just one of those feelings like, 'I cannot believe this is happening to me. I am the luckiest person alive right now.'”
She is getting ready for the national competition, which takes place July 16 to 20 in Ohio.
Ms. LeVoy said there will be an opening number, where participants can dress up as whoever they want.
She's narrowed her choice to singer-songwriter Dolly Parton and country music artist and actress Reba McEntire.
Contestants also will do introductions, interview questions and evening dress wear.
Ms. LeVoy said she's a little excited about it all, including wearing the dress, meeting new people and answering questions. She does not know what she'll be asked at the national competition. She also is seeking a pageant coach, dress and sponsors.
Throughout the pageant process, Ms. LeVoy said she's learned about herself.
“That's my big thing as Ms. Wheelchair Texas — getting out there and helping others and (them) seeing me as a person. Even though I'm in a wheelchair, it doesn't mean that I can't be treated as a normal person.”
Her specific platform is “motivation —we can do it,” and her advice to other girls: “There are always options for you whether you're in a wheelchair or not. You have a purpose. You have a life.”
Ms. LeVoy has been in a wheelchair since her freshman year of high school.
She also was involved in the speech and debate team and said a lot of her speaking skills were taken from that and Future Farmers of America.
She also was in choir at Owens Elementary School and played in band her freshman year at Robert E. Lee High School.
“I was always somehow on stage. Showing livestock always put me in the spotlight,” she said.
Ms. LeVoy said she had to have accommodations during performances and was taken backstage, so she could walk out of the curtain instead of walking up stairs.
A woman also helped her at a show ring in 2004.
“I wasn't a big fan of that. I wanted to do it myself. I wanted to be the one showing the animal not standing beside the animal. I found that I could show in my manual wheelchair and went from there,” said Ms. LeVoy, who showed lambs and Lowline Angus heifers.
She already owns her own show cattle company — Rhinestone Cattle Co. — and raises Lowline Angus cattle.
If crowned Ms. Wheelchair USA, she said she will do a lot of traveling and would like to continue working with children.
“I always had motivation and support and know others don't always have that opportunity, and if I can be at least one little bit of inspiration, maybe they will become something, because they will. They just need the motivation,” Ms. LeVoy said.
For those interested in pageants, she said it's important to know that they have outer and inner beauty, and “You're beautiful inside and out.”
Ms. LeVoy said her friends also are excited for her and have said, “Don't forget us when you're a big shot.” Her mother, Amanda LeVoy, is just as excited if not more so.
“She's always wanted to be a pageant queen, so I thought it was great …” she said. “It brings awareness that just because young ladies are in a wheelchair does not mean they don't have a meaning in life. The wheelchair does not make them the person. It just helps them get around. They are human. They are smart. They have feelings. They can accomplish things, and pageants have just given these ladies a boost in life. … It just gives them the motivation they need to succeed.”
Ever since she found out about her daughter's diagnosis, she said she wouldn't tell herself that her daughter couldn't do something and would encourage her.
And throughout the years, the 20-year-old has been successful, she said.
Ms. LeVoy said her daughter's agriculture teacher sent her a photo of a young man whose parents saw her daughter, and he is now showing in a wheelchair, which was heartwarming.
“She is making a difference. … I just look forward to seeing what kind of difference she's going to make in someone's life and even her life,” she said.