Growing up, Nicole Minassian wanted to be normal. But one thing always stood in the way of others realizing just what she has to offer: her motorized scooter.
Meet Miss Amazing
Family: Parents Chris and Sharon; brother Hunter, 16
For more information on Miss Amazing, visit missamazingpageant.com.
In her words
It bothers me when people think Im inspirational for accomplishing normal things. Its weird when people say youre inspirational for having a life.
We, historically, have been thrown into institutions and completely segregated. Now, even though things like that arent acceptable anymore, people dont necessarily fully accept us as normal people.
Nicole, 20, has a rare neurological disorder called hypomyelination. She lacks myelin–the layer that surrounds nerves and helps conduct signals in the body–which causes her to have trouble with things like coordination, balance, sensation and fine motor skills. It also means that while she can still walk, she usually uses a scooter, which often leads others to assume that she can’t communicate.
But last spring, Nicole had an opportunity to speak for herself, and it was in an environment she didn’t expect. On a whim, the girl with a self-described “princess-y personality” competed in–and won–the title of Miss Amazing.
Miss Amazing’s mission is to provide opportunities for girls and women with disabilities to build confidence and self-esteem in a supportive environment. Participants in six age groups “compete” in the areas of Introduction, Evening Wear, Talent and Interview. In laymen’s terms, it’s a pageant. But Nicole, who was crowned National Miss Amazing Queen after winning the Illinois title, says it’s much deeper than that word implies.
“It’s not like a normal pageant,” Nicole says. “The whole point º is to show your confidence with yourself instead of actually looking at how you look or what you’re wearing.”
For her talent, Nicole gave a speech on a topic near and dear to her heart: disability acceptance. But rather than droning on about the importance of including the special needs community in “normal” life, she added an unusual twist. Dressed in a mismatched, Ariel-themed outfit that included fork earrings, she interpreted the song “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid to include people with disabilities.
“Every disabled person has a purpose and the potential to make genuine, equally valuable contributions to society,” she said, to cheers from the audience. The speech concluded with the lyrics, “Bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand.”
Afterward, she was surrounded by people who told her the speech touched them so much, it made them cry.
“It was an unbelievably moving experience,” says her mom, Sharon.
Sharon says her daughter had a positive impact on some of the younger girls and mothers they met at Miss Amazing. And she says that having so many different disabilities represented in one place served as a reminder that all special needs are challenging and that comparing those challenges is counterproductive.
“As parents, we were almost more accepting of our issue based on seeing other people’s,” she says. “It reminds you what you really need to look at.”
While Nicole is probably done competing in pageants–most pageants for those with disabilities tend to be too specific to include her diagnosis–she is planning to attend Illinois Miss Amazing and National Miss Amazing (which is in Chicago in late June), wearing her crown and sparkly sash. And she’ll continue to think about ways she can use her “normal” self to change the world, just like Miss Amazing taught her.
“I saw I could be something bigger,” she says. “You don’t have to be some big celebrity.”
Sharon agrees that, no matter what path her daughter chooses, Nicole has great potential.
“I think it may have sparked a little advocacy in her for the disabled community,” her mom says. “She’s showing her colors more. … And I think the disabled community needs someone like her.”