Born with spina bifida, Evelyna Castro has parents who have been her biggest boosters. Now, as the reigning Ms. Wheelchair Washington, she has taken on the role of advocate for others with disabilities.
"I've never really looked at myself as somebody with a disability because my parents did not raise me to look at disability, but look at what I'm capable of doing — instead of dwelling on what I can't," she said.
Castro, 34, will represent the state next week in Long Beach, Calif., during the national Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, a friendly competition meant to promote "the achievements, as well as the needs of, people with mobility impairments."
"It's a pageant, and in a sense it's a competition," she said. "But at the same time, it's a community coming together to spread the same message."
Castro entered the state pageant on a whim, more for the experience than anything else. A friend, 2010 Ms. Wheelchair Washington Krystal Monteros, was the one who gave her the idea to compete.
Castro, a makeup artist who has worked on projects ranging from bridal photo shoots to gory independent films, was taken aback when learning in March that she'd been picked as Ms. Washington.
"It's my first pageant ever," the Longview woman said. "I had not a clue I was actually going to win. It was a little beyond me. I was shocked and speechless."
At the national pageant, much like at the regional competition in Seattle, Castro and other state titleholders will be judged not on looks, as they would at a beauty pageant, but on character. She'll take part in workshops, interviews and deliver a speech. There will also be opportunities for Castro to mingle with other contestants and learn their stories, and share her own.
"It's an eye-opening experience, to be honest. I haven't had too many friends with disabilities throughout my life," she said. "Everybody has their own story. Not everybody comes from the same background, not everybody has the same abilities or disabilities."
As Ms. Wheelchair America, the winner is expected to be an advocate for those with disabilities, representing the organization by traveling to meet with groups, do interviews with the media and make public appearances.
Castro has embraced her role as Ms. Wheelchair Washington and her platform of helping eliminate "stereotypes that society has placed on people with disabilities." She cherishes how her parents supported her — both when she was growing up and now— by being her support system in tough times and good. They were there for her when she broke her leg at 10 years old and had to permanently switch from crutches and leg braces to a wheelchair, and they were there when she was 17 and won second place in archery at a national wheelchair athletics competition.
Ultimately, they helped her learn self-acceptance. And Castro wants to do the same for others.
"There are people out there who do dwell on their disabilities," she said. "I feel for me, this pageant is geared toward those people to prove that just because you have a disability, (you can) do what you want to do anyway."
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