Alyssa Patrias has a lot in common with the other competitors in a recent Miss Michigan beauty pageant.
The 20-year-old is a volunteer in her community, a hard worker, and a multi-sport athlete (she's a cheerleader and a baseball player). But there was also one big difference between Patrias and her "Pageant Sisters." She was born with Down syndrome.
While lots of people living with Down syndrome lead happy and successful lives, Cameron had a particularly rough childhood. She has had 10 surgeries, including open heart surgery at just 10 weeks old to corrective a heart defect.
Patrias also struggled with shyness. But with help from her teachers and her mother Sue Cameron, she grew up to be a bright and friendly young woman. Her personality showed through when she competed in a number of all-inclusive pageants for people with disabilities. But this year Patrias felt "too big" for those pageants, and wanted a real challenge.
She set her sights on winning the Miss Downriver pageant, the first step on the road to competing for the title of Miss America. Her mother warned her it would be tough, and asked if she was up for the challenge, but Patrias simply told her "absolutely."
In the end, she went on to exceed even her own wildest expectations.
The pageant judges warned Patrias that she wouldn't be treated differently than the other contestants, but that was just what she wanted.
Her intensity surprised her mother, who said she "didn’t know that Alyssa wanted to do what her peers did—to be in a real pageant." Together they started an intense six weeks of practice, making sure Patrias was prepared for each of the pageant's segments.
She learned to walk in high heels, practiced singing the Phil Collins song "You'll Be In My Heart" as her talent, and rehearsed her answers for the judge's Q&A. Despite a tense moment in rehearsals when she broke down in tears, the support of her competitors gave Patrias confidence.
Throughout the entire show, Patrias took confidence from the message on her bracelet: "she believed she could, so she did.” While she didn't win, she called the experience "amazing" and said she loved wearing her long red dress.
Her pageant sisters were obviously impressed, because they voted her Miss Congeniality. A great achievement for the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in the pageant.
“She may not be as poised or have the grace that the other girls have, but she went up there and gave it her all," her mother said. "That’s all I can ask for."
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[H/T: Michigan Free Press]