My name is Katherine Magnoli. I am thirty-three years old. I live in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. I have Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele. Spina Bifida has made me a stronger person, So in a way, I am grateful to my disability because it has shaped me into the person I am today.
Growing up with Spina Bifida has had many ups and downs. As a young child, I was surrounded by children similar to myself. Then as a preteen, adolescent, and even young adult, I was the only person with a physical disability in all of my schooling. This made me feel quite lonely, especially when I had to deal with bullying from my peers. I never let it stop me from doing the things I knew I could do. So as I said before, my disability and all the challenges I have faced with it has made me a stronger person.
For about three years played wheelchair tennis before the program was cancelled. I also love adaptive water sports including surfing and swimming. I have been swimming for as long as I can remember. As far as surfing, this is the newest of my loves. I have only been doing it for a few months and wonder how it was that I went this long without it. It is truly exhilarating to feel like you are flying on water! I do not play on any sports teams yet, but who knows what the future holds!
I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2017. This was truly an unexpected honor. I had participated two years prior and had always placed in the top three. However, this time I felt the competition was so strong that I was not going to place. So when they called my name I was absolutely floored and so honored to have been chosen to represent the disability community and make real changes to better all of our lives!! I first needed to become an advocate. Based on my experience, I needed to fill out a long application and then write an essay and speech speaking on ways that I would like to better the disability community as a whole. I spoke about my platform Youbilities that encourages people to focus on what they can do and not what they can not in order to change the perception people have on those of us living with disabilities. From this platform, I have been able to accomplish so much including getting beach access in my community by speaking with the Mayor. I also have a program I developed for schools called the Youbilities Program that will teach kids about people throughout history that have lived with disabilities and accomplished great things.
Anyway back to the process *sorry went on a little tangent*, after I submitted all of that, I went to Tampa's University of South Florida where myself and seven other girls went to different workshops about advocacy, self defense, dating, and fashion (just to name a few). We also had individual judging sessions where we answered one question from each judge. Then, the night of the pageant, we dressed up and had our hair and make up done as we answered three more questions from the judges along with giving our speeches to them. We had an audience made up of our friends and family members, I really enjoyed this process, and feel so blessed to represent this wonderful organization for a whole year.
There are so many things I have learned in such a short amount of time since being crowned. I guess the most important thing I have learned is to make sure you take the advice of your coordinator and remember that even though it is important to reach out to a lot of people, you do have to pace yourself when it comes to accepting event offers. I also learned that it is not so much about you. It is about how you are affecting others lives when you are able to be in this position and see how your words can truly help a person of any age. It really makes you feel like you are on the right path and you are making a real change. My advice for someone with Spina Bifida is to wake up every morning knowing you are worth it, in spite of all the negativity you may face from bad health issues or people judging you on your appearance. You are worth so much more than that. You are smart, funny, kind and beautiful inside and out. Never give up on what it is you want to do and know in your heart you can do just that, because there are people who try to only focus on the one thing you can not do.