Winner in the inauguration of Miss Wheelchair World pageant

In her elegant evening dress and perfectly styled hair and make- up , Maria Diaz looks like any beauty pageant contestant — except for the wheelchair she has been confined to since being shot by a stranger ten years ago.

Maria is one of 24 young women who gathered in Warsaw on Saturday to compete for the first – ever title of Miss Wheelchair World .

“It doesn ’ t matter who wins the crown. We are all winners , ” said the 28- year – old from Chile, who is a professional wheelchair tennis player .

“It ’ s our first opportunity of its kind to show the world that we can do anything we want, ” she added .

Belarussian psychology and social pedagogy student Aleksandra Chichikova won the crown at a gala evening in the Polish capital .
The contestants presented themselves in national costumes, cocktail and evening dresses .

They also performed elaborate dance routines, some by moving their wheelchairs on their own and others with the help of assistants .
They talked mostly about their personal experiences , including the challenges of life in a wheelchair.

Finland ’ s Kati van der Hoeven can only talk to her husband by moving her pupils , while Mirande Bakker from the Netherlands is the victim of a doctor’ s mistake.

Polish kinesiotherapist Beata Jalocha has been confined to a wheelchair since 2013 when a suicide jumper landed on her .
“It ’ s the first initiative of its kind in the world , ” jury president Katarzyna Wojtaszek -Ginalska told AFP.

The goal is to “ change the image of women on wheelchairs so they would not be judged solely by ” their disability , added the 36- year – old handicapped mother.

Wojtaszek- Ginalska is head of the Only One Foundation , which has organised the contest drawing on experience from Polish beauty pageants for the handicapped .
“It is not the looks that matter the most , ” said Wojtaszek-Ginalska.

“Of course , good looks count but we have focused especially on the personalities of the girls, their everyday activities . . , ” she added .

Another goal was to show that a wheelchair is a luxury in many parts of the world .

“It ’ s a common saying of handicapped women that we didn’ t ask to be handicapped , that we would happily get rid of our handicaps , that we want to be considered ordinary people after all, ” she said .

“Of course we are on wheelchairs, but that is a fate that can hit anyone , anytime . ”

‘ Raise your right hand !’
To finance the pageant, the small foundation has collected money from private sponsors. But the biggest portion of aid came from the city of Warsaw , which provided the infrastructure, logistical support and helpers.

“The girls only paid for their trip here , ” said Wojtaszek-Ginalska.
The contestants were chosen either in national rounds or , in countries with no such pageants, by non- governmental organisations contacted by the Polish foundation .

Each country could send a maximum of two contestants, who spent eight days in the Polish capital , busy with rehearsals, photo sessions , conferences and visits .

One rehearsal required them to dance to fast music , a task some found impossible to do .

At one moment , a professional choreographer showing them the movements they were to imitate, cried: “Raise your right hand!”
“I don’ t have the right hand , ” American contestant Jennifer Lynn Adams protested from her electric wheelchair , driven with the help of a joystick, to an applause from all hands at the rehearsal .

“I was born with partial limbs so I have to be adaptive to the music , to the choreography but that’ s okay. I live my life adaptively, ” said the Miss Wheelchair America 2014.

“That’ s actually my message to the world : that we all have something that limits us but we can adapt beyond it and we can shine beyond our limitations . ”

Winner in the inauguration of Miss Wheelchair World pageant
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