Congratulations to Jessica (Wilkinson) Patterson '07 who was crowned Ms. Wheelchair New York 2013! Despite a car accident that left her an incomplete paraplegic, Jessica didn't let that slow her down. She graduated from high school, got married, and continued her education at both MSC and SUNY Oswego. Jessica has been all over Central New York this summer, increasing awareness and gearing up for the Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant in August 2014.
How did you come to be Ms. Wheelchair, NY 2013?
Ms. Wheelchair is a program that was developed to recognize the accomplishments, advocacy, volunteering, achievements and overall lives of women who live every day in wheelchairs. I found out about the pageant when I was a student in Morrisville in 2006. Since you must be 21 to enter, I had to wait to apply. Recently the director of the Ms. Wheelchair, NY competition contacted me to ask if I was still interested in participating. I applied, was accepted, went to Albany to compete, and to my surprise...I won!
What’s the best part of being Ms. Wheelchair, NY 2013 so far?
The best part of being Ms. Wheelchair, NY 2013 so far was visiting a patient in Golisano Children's Hospital in Syracuse, NY, where I volunteer every week. She wanted to meet a princess, so I wore my tiara to surprise her. She was delighted go meet a "real princess."
You were a teenager when you had your accident. What advice do you give other teens who are going through the same experience?
Being so young when the accident happened was very tough on me. From being able to do everything on my own, to having to rely on everyone else to help, I started to easily fall into a pattern. I didn't do anything by myself for the first four years. However, being away at college I had to learn to regain my independence. I would tell others who are going through the same situation as I did to find a comfort zone where you can learn to do things on your own. Learn to drive, play sports, go to college, hold gainful employment and most importantly shine from within and show the world that just because you are in a wheelchair, it doesn't make you disabled; it makes you differently abled.
What is your proudest moment?
I would say that my proudest moment since my accident in 2003, is when I gained my independence and earned both my associate and bachelor degrees. College is hard enough but trying to get around on campus and make it to my classes in all of that snow proved to be almost impossible. However, I found my way to class every day and pushed myself to be the best student I could be, because I had what was most important to me...my independence.
How are you preparing for The Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant in 2014?
In order to prepare for the national pageant in August, 2014 I will be doing a number of appearances, interviews and fundraisers. The appearances and interviews that I make help spread the word and awareness of the Ms. Wheelchair program. My goal is to create a following so that more women in wheelchairs have the opportunity to participate in the pageant. My team and I have also brainstormed a few fundraising events to help raise the money needed to pay for my trip to nationals in California next year. Some of the dollars raised will also be donated to the New York State competition in 2014.
What was your Morrisville experience like?
At Morrisville I was very focused on my studies. I was elected the Social Science Student of the Year in 2007. I also was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society. Although I do not regret being so focused on my studies, looking back now I wish I had become more active in clubs, activities and campus life.
I made great friends at Morrisville and would urge students there to take advantage of the beautiful and peaceful campus.
What dorm did you live in?
Freshman year 2005-2006, I lived in Cayuga Hall. I loved that dorm because it was centrally located on campus and I had my own handicap accessible bathroom. The following years 2006-2007, I was relocated to Fountain View Hall because Cayuga was undergoing construction. The upside to living in Fountain View Hall was the 24-hour quite rule. That made studying and relaxing so much easier.
What’s your current ringtone?
My current ringtone is the generic iPhone ringtone that is preset when you buy an iPhone. I haven't had time to change it to a fun song or unique ringtone yet. It makes it hard to know if it’s my phone ringing or my husband’s!
What would people be surprised to know about you?
People would be surprised to know how much I love to dance despite my disability. Dancing is my outlet to have fun and show the people around me that disability only limits you if you let it. I dance at home, in my car, watching my dad’s band play and when I go out for the night with my friends.