Five individuals competed in the annual Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee crowning ceremony at Knoxville on March 22 — including the two winners from Cleveland. Kaylee Arrowood of Johnson City was named the Junior Miss Wheelchair Tennessee and Skylar Vaughn-Hisey of Ooltewah was named Little Miss Wheelchair Tennessee.
Before resting up for a busy Saturday, the contestants were able to spend some time with their families at Market Square dining and shopping. The competition began early Saturday morning with the delivery of platform speeches. Each Ms. Wheelchair contestant gave a speech lasting two to three minutes on an issue that is important to her.
Afterward, each contestant was interviewed twice by a panel of judges: Jeri Wasco, state coordinator for Ms. Wheelchair D.C., Dr. Gene Hayes, professor of recreation and sports studies at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and Dennis Clark, IT service provider of Oak Ridge.
The contestants answered fishbowl questions and gave their platform speeches for the audience before judges left to deliberate. Café 4 at Market Square was awarded the Accessible Business Award. The Triple Star Award was given to Superior Van & Mobility of Knoxville for providing outstanding support to the community.
The Advocacy Award was given to Szidiropulosz for promoting empowerment of individuals with disabilities and having the best understanding of the philosophy of the Independent Living Movement. Ms. Congeniality was presented to Northrup and was voted thus by her fellow contestants. Warren was awarded both Best Speech and People’s Choice.
Szidiropulosz will have the opportunity to travel to Long Beach, Calif., in August to compete for the title of Ms. Wheelchair America 2015. It is a prestigious title and provides another opportunity to travel and speak on behalf of her community to promote awareness and positive change to the lives of all Americans.
She said, “This is an exciting achievement and I am so glad to be able to share this with my community.” She is available for speaking engagements and can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. She also has a Facebook page: Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee 2014 Amanda Szidiropulosz.
Northrup, the oldest of three girls, grew up in Charleston. Her parents still live there. All three sisters are teachers. Her middle sister, Carissa, is a librarian at Roy Waldron Elementary and her youngest sister Melissa is a kindergarten teacher at LaVergne Lake Elementary.
She has been married for eight years to Damian, whom she calls, “the most wonderful husband on the planet.” Together, Damian and Amanda have two “furry” children — Maine Coon cats Ella and Dexter.
Damian said “Amanda is just an inspiration. She has an unstoppable positive attitude, humor, grit and some serious organizational skills when it comes to children.” He said she was on crutches when they met and not long after that she had surgery that left her confined to a wheelchair.
“Actually, she was unable to even roll over in bed without help when she came home from the hospital,” Damian said, “but despite her condition, she managed to roll up her sleeves and work hard to get as mobile as she is today.” He said it took a while, but she never complained and she is always a happy and vibrant person with a magnetic personality. “She’s always laughing and has me in stitches.”
Damian said she deals with bad spasticity that medicine can’t always relieve, but also because of an experience she had at the hospital. “She was in the ICU and just got out of her second surgery,” he said. “She refused to take the morphine because she knew how addictive it can be and was afraid of adding that kind of complication to her life.” He said the nurse wound up having to press the pump for her.
Education is very important to Amanda. A graduate of Charleston High School in 1992, she graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1996 with a bachelor in music education. She earned her master’s in technology in teaching from Walden University in 2010 and has completed her doctorate in teacher leadership work there.
In her 16th year of teaching music, Amanda is a music teacher at Charleston Elementary School. She not only teaches every child at Charleston Elementary school as a music teacher, but she directs a choir of more than 50 students. She spent her first three years as a band director/music education teacher. The last 13 years, Amanda has been a kindergarten- through fifth-grade teacher/choir director. Outside of the classroom, she has a studio of private piano students.
“I have a hard time keeping up!” Damian said. “Whenever I have a hard day, I always think to myself ‘I need to stop being a wimp, Amanda could handle a day like this in her sleep!’” He added, “She is one of a kind, and a never-ending source of joy and inspiration.”
In her spare time, Amanda enjoys giving back to her community. She has done several community service projects with her school, such as Operation Christmas Child, collecting food for Share Your Christmas, and distributing Christmas cards to the elderly during the Choir Christmas Tour. Several years ago, Amanda partnered with the husband of her best friend, who was serving in Iraq at the time, to bring joy to children overseas. She helped to collect more than 400 pounds of stuffed animals and candy to send to the children in a village he was patrolling in Iraq.
When she’s not working, Amanda loves to catch up on her favorite TV shows, read, write and work on craft projects. Amanda and her husband also love to go to music concerts. She says one perk of being in a wheelchair is “you get great concert seats.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee follows the guidelines set forth under the Ms. Wheelchair America (www.mswheelchairamerica.org) organization. Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee holds a competition to select the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities across the State of Tennessee. The organziation is charged with a continuing effort to educate the public regarding the dignity, productiveness and basic values of people with disabilities.