More than once, Renee Riddle had tossed the entry form for the Ms. Wheelchair Utah pageant into her wastebasket.
The 26-year-old teacher, confined to a wheelchair since a 1982 car accident left her a paraplegic, just wasn't interested in competing for a title."I said I would never do this when I first hurt myself, because it calls attention to my disability instead of to me," she said.
She changed her mind, however, after she talked to Dixie Mitchell, Ms. Wheelchair Utah of 1988. "I talked to her for at least an hour. She was fun, she was exciting, she was vital," Riddle said. "Her perception of the pageant was that it was fun."
So, Riddle plotted her strategy for the contest, held Jan. 26 at the Doubletree Inn in Salt Lake City.
The pageant, she understood, would emphasize her adjustment to her disability and her achievements since her accident. Without the usual beauty-queen swimsuit or evening gown competitions, her age, marital status and body type would not be important.
She decided to not care how she fared in the competition, but instead to be relentlessly honest with the judges when they lobbed her their contest questions.
It worked. She won.
Riddle, who teaches hearing-impaired kindergarteners at Oakwood Elementary in Holladay, will travel to Orlando, Fla., in August for the national Ms. Wheelchair contest. For now, she will continue her advocacy work for all Utahns with disabilities.
When her year as Ms. Wheelchair Utah is over, she will be able to take advantage of the contest's big prize - a one-year scholarship to Utah State University.