Oak Lawn native reigns as Ms. Wheelchair Illinois
By Hannah Kohut Correspondent September 11, 2012 3:38PM
Oak Lawn native Kim Brown is Miss Wheelchair Illinois for 2012. | Supplied photo
Updated: October 13, 2012 6:04AM
When Kim Brown won her first pageant back in March, she was lauded for many qualities: her willingness to help others, going above and beyond her limitations, and having a vision for the future. And as with any other pageant winner, she cried as she was draped with her sash as a flurry of camera flashes captured the moment. To top it off, she was also crowned Miss Congeniality.
Brown, an avid tennis player and kindergarten teacher in Chicago, wowed the judges with her ingenuity and then set off on a whirlwind tour of visiting various facilities. She also has two master’s degrees in education.
But this wasn’t your ordinary pageant, where the competitors are judged based on hair, make-up, and a swimsuit: this was the Ms. Wheelchair Illinois 2012 pageant.
Brown, 38, an Oak Lawn native, has been in a wheelchair since she was 10, and has overcome quite a number of obstacles to reach this point in her life, and has achieved goals that some people without limitations haven’t even done.
“I bawled like a baby,” Brown said of her crowning moment on March 17 at the Wyndham Hotel in Tinley Park. “They announced Miss Congeniality (before announcing the winner) and I had won that. “I kind of looked over at my sister (in the crowd) like, oh great, Miss Congeniality is usually runner-up. The crown is the most beautiful crown.”
And, like any other pageant, it required Brown to put in a lot of time and emotion.
‘She has fight’
Brown said she was born with spina bifida, a congenital spinal cord defect. Doctors told her parents they didn’t have much hope for her, even suggesting they institutionalize the girl.
“But my parents said ‘No, she has fight’,” Brown said. “And I was raised just like my (older) sister, with the same goals and expectations she had.”
Brown said she was in the fifth grade when she had to start using a wheelchair, and that it was the hardest part of her life.
“Children can be cruel, but acceptance took time,” Brown said of how classmates treated her.
Brown said it did get easier as she got to high school at Mother McAuley.
“It was a fresh start,” Brown said. “I was in orchestra, played the clarinet, was in organizations, and hung out with friends who liked me for being me.”
After high school, she went on to St. Xavier University to study elementary education, where she was involved with student organizations and enjoyed the college life by going to football and basketball games with friends. That’s also when she said she found her love of wheelchair tennis, and began competing all over the U.S.
With two master’s degrees in education, one in reading and one in school administration, Brown now teaches kindergarten at Paderewski School in Chicago. But teaching children from a wheelchair doesn’t seem to be an issue for Brown.
“The kids think it’s the coolest thing (that I’m in a chair),” Brown said. “We were walking back from the cafeteria and they grabbed on the back doing the train.”
‘Beyond the Wheels’
Brown said she was asked a few years ago to participate in the Ms. Wheelchair Illinois pageant, but due to her college and tennis commitments, she had to decline. When her physical therapist approached her about the 2012 pageant, she agreed to register.
After being assured from the pageant board that there was no swimsuit competition, she filled out the 10-page application in December and began thinking of her platform for the competition.
She chose “Beyond the Wheels” as her topic for the judges. Brown said it’s about busting down architectural barriers and having people view people in wheelchairs for their talents and education instead of the wheels.
Brown said she was up against five other women with various disabilities.
“It was based on inner beauty,” Brown said. “It’s based on communication skills, accomplishments, advocacy and what you’d do for the people in the state of Illinois with disabilities.”
Soon after she was crowned the winner, Brown said she set off on an advocacy adventure throughout Illinois.
“I’ve done a video for a hospital, done an event at the Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn, visited with patients at the Lurie Children’s Hospital and Shriners Hospital, and other children who aspire to be Ms. Wheelchair Illinois,” Brown said.
She offers some words of advice to any woman out there who wants to compete in next year’s competition.
“They have to be in it, they have to put themselves into it,” Brown said. “You are the voice of so many people that need you. You’re the voice of parents that don’t know what to do for their child.”