Eliza McIntosh beat 25 other hopefuls to gain her new crown – 21 years after her parents Michael and Marcie were advised to terminate their pregnancy.
The 21-year-old was born with spinal dysgenesis, which left her paralysed from the waist down , but it hasn’t stopped her becoming a world record breaking athlete.
Her mum and dad, both now 54, decided to give their daughter a chance at life two decades ago and since then she’s overcame the odds at every turn.
Eliza, from Salt Lake City in Utah, was supposed to be born in a vegetative state and unable to breath independently, according to doctors.
Instead, as a schoolgirl she started wheelchair basketball at the age of eight and has since gone onto play for the USA Paralympic team.
Additionally, she broke a Guinness World Record in 2011 for the longest distance travelled while doing a wheelie, holding herself up for more than 12 miles.
Last weekend she was crowned Ms. Wheelchair America after beating 25 other finalists representing their states before a crowd of 300 spectators.
Eliza, a psychology and political science student, said: “The shock on my face was pretty apparent, I was shaking my head in disbelief, then I started crying while they placed the sash and crown on my head – I never expected to win.
“This is the first year I’ve been old enough to participate, so it’s crazy but an absolute honour to be crowned Ms. Wheelchair America.
“I was surprised to represent my state and then even getting into the top five was a massive achievement.
“While we were sitting on stage waiting for the results I was revelling in the sisterhood we had created; we all became really close.
“For me, every lady on the stage deserved the crown, in my eyes the competition is to present a united front for advocacy work in all states of America.
“Now my goal is to take on institutional, architectural and attitudinal barriers for people with disabilities, because these things hold us back more than our conditions.
“One of my motivations stemmed from attending a wheelchair inaccessible school, I couldn’t access the facilities on the top half of the building including the library and computer lab.
“It was something that made me sad because you wish to be presented with as many opportunities as everyone else – however my mother never let me mope and taught me to problem solve.
“Both of my parents have always been a great inspiration, they never told me I couldn’t do anything, we’ve always found a way around any difficulties I’ve had.
“They instilled in me that I should know the difference between having a disability and being disabled.
“Having a disability is something you’re born with, but being disabled means you let it stop you.
“Before I was born, doctors advised my parents to have an abortion because they believed I was going to be in a vegetative state, on a breathing tube and with no quality of life.
“But my parents are very religious, so are against abortions regardless, and their attitude was ‘this is the hand we’ve been dealt with, so we’ll play it as well as we can’.
“They weren’t going to let me die, they decided to modify our home to make it more accessible and have never treated me any differently.
“Since then I’ve played in the USA’s Paralympic team and broke a Guinness World Record in my wheelchair.
“I was to show other people there are a lot of advantages that come with your wheelchair, I want people to use their voice to better the position of our community.”
Eliza started wheelchair basketball at eight-years-old, she quickly became addicted and has even played for her national Paralympic team.
Five years ago, Eliza was determined to help others have access to equipment for the wheelchair basketball so used her Guinness World Record attempt as a fundraiser.
She said: “I read an article about a man who broke the Guinness World Record for the longest wheelie on a track and thought, ‘I could do that.’
“I’ve always done wheelies my whole life, as soon as I heard the record was 10miles I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I believed I could do it.
“It wasn’t about beating the record, more to get people to start thinking about what you can do because of a disability and fundraising.”
Since then her record has been beaten, but Eliza is determined to reclaim the record during her year as the winner of Ms. Wheelchair America, as well as campaigning with other ambassadors from the competition.
Eliza added: “My goal is to visit every title holder in each state and work with them specifically on their platforms, it would be a waste to have come this far and only make change in one area.
“My biggest goal is to show people, particularly men and women who use wheelchairs, that no matter what your goal is there is a way to achieve it.”
Ms. Wheelchair America started in 1972, the competition aims to bring people together to share stories, advocate and shed positive light on disabilities.
Stephanie Deible, Director of Ms. Wheelchair America, said: “The ladies were fabulous in this year’s competition, they really bonded well and encouraged one another.
“Eliza will now serve as a spokeswoman for the community, she will travel the country trying to spread her platform and awareness for people with disabilities to get positive messages out there.
“I think Eliza will be a good representative because even though she has certain challenges in life she doesn’t let them stop her.
“She’s broken a Guinness World Record, is an avid wheelchair basketball player and is out there trying to show people that life with a disability can be just as fulfilling as life without one.”
For more information, visit: www.mswheelchairamerica.org