Waverly woman crowned Ms. Wheelchair Iowa

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | MARCH 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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Jennifer Wolff went through a bout of depression in 2003, when doctors told her a rare spinal-cord tumor would confine her to a wheelchair.

But before being crowned Ms. Wheelchair Iowa at a pageant March 26, the 39-year-old Waverly woman said her wheels have taken her down a road of empowerment and advocacy, further than she would have dreamed.

“I struggled with major depression before my surgery, but … after the first tiny movements of my toes, I kind of had a life-changing experience, and I kind of just decided from that point on everything that happened was a blessing,” she said during her platform speech, a smile stretching across her face. “And that kind of changed the whole course of my life.”

Now, as Ms. Wheelchair Iowa 2011, she plans to continue advocating for education of wheelchair users on how to obtain the appropriate treatment and equipment. She said her new title may give her campaign more leverage.

“I’m really excited because it’s really hard as a normal wheelchair user to get access to people,” Wolff said, readjusting the white sash that stood out from her bright red jacket. “So, hopefully, Ms. Wheelchair Iowa is going to open the doors so I can spread the word.”

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In addition to holding a job as an occupational therapist, Wolff has worked on a local and national level to diminish the red tape wheelchair users often encounter before getting a new chair.

During the three-hour competition — which consisted of a private interview, a platform speech, and an impromptu question-and-answer session conducted by three judges — Wolff competed against four other women from across the state, who use a wheelchair for 100 percent of their daily mobility.

And though there could only be one winner, awards were given to each of the participants.
Jayde Henry — a 29-year-old contestant from Des Moines whose platform speech focused on employment — left with the Achievement Award.

She said the competition itself was a rewarding experience, and she will continue to advocate even without the title.

“It’s like I say, life is like a baseball game, and God is the pitcher,” Henry said. “Sometimes, you’re on base to home, and others you strike out and keep going.”

Samantha Edwards, Ms. Wheelchair Iowa 2010, exchanged words of encouragement with Wolff after the crowning.

“It was nice to be able to pass on the crown to someone so she can use it and advocate for what she believes in,” Edwards said, adding she will continue serving as a mentor for disabled students at Iowa State University, where she is a journalism major.

Though Wolff’s primary job is to educate those in her home state, she will compete against 27 other women in the national competition in August, slated to take place in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“My wheels have taken me far and wide, and it continues to be a crazy trip,” Wolff said. “But I love my wheels, and they’ve really become part of who I am. They’ve inspired me to be a better person … so my only hope is that in sharing my travels that I could give others a voice and a path to follow.”

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