When Tasha Schuh noticed the Facebook page for Ms. Wheelchair USA, she clicked “Like” and thought little more about it.
“Some of my caregivers said, ‘You should get involved,’ Schuh recalls. “But I’m not the pageant type.” She was already busy, writing a book about her life after an accident paralyzed her from the chest down. In addition, she gives motivational speeches and volunteers as a mentor for people who’ve recently sustained spinal cord injuries.
It’s been a long journey since, a month before her 17th birthday, Schuh stepped backward on a high school stage—not realizing someone had opened a trap door. She fell 16 feet, breaking her neck and damaging her spinal cord on the cement floor.
“I know what it’s like to feel hopeless and want to quit,” Schuh recalls. “I got involved with Ms. Wheelchair USA because its vision isn’t about beauty. It’s about what women can accomplish in a wheelchair.”
A year after seeing that Facebook page, Schuh filled out a 20-page application for Ms. Wisconsin USA. She won the title on the strength of her application, then traveled to Ohio for a five-day national pageant. “It was amazing,” she says. “I got to meet wonderful women who had dreams and goals just like I did, whose stories were equally inspirational.” The contestants attended workshops about accessibility, advocacy and other disability issues. They made blankets to donate, attended a swing dance and interviewed with judges.
Each contestant gave a speech focusing on their “platform”—the main idea they were promoting—and on what they would do if selected. “My platform was the power of a positive attitude,” Schuh says. “When they said my name, at the end of all the awards, I was shocked—and so honored to be taking home the crown.”
Since the pageant, Schuh has appeared on news and talk shows throughout the U.S. “So many opportunities have opened up for me because of the title,” she says. Recently, she was named 2012 American Rehabilitation Champion by the Foundation for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. She’s finishing her book and planning her wedding.
“My dream is to give hope to people by telling my story,” she says. “Attitude is huge. It’s so easy to focus on what you’ve lost, but we all have things we can be thankful for. Air to breathe. Hot running water. Freedom in America. It didn’t happen overnight, but when I stopped thinking of what I lost, I started living a life that’s good. Now I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”
Tasha Schuh’s book, My Last Step Backward, will be available soon. Check her website, http://tashaschuh.com, for more information.