MERIDIANVILLE, Ala. (BP) – Over the years, dozens if not hundreds of women have walked across the stage in the Miss Alabama USA competition.
But when Lauren Gray, 22, of Huntsville entered the contest, she rolled across in a motorized wheelchair.
Although Gray didn’t win the coveted crown in the January pageant, she considers the award of Miss Congeniality much more important.
“I have the opportunity to share my faith and promote programs that will help others with disabilities,” Gray said.
Her platform as Miss Flint River was, “Don’t Let the Obstacles Get in the Way.”
‘A story to share’
Friends knew Gray had a story to share and signed her up for the pageant, but she admitted it was “out of my comfort zone.”
She was born with arthrogryposis, a rare disorder that causes joints and muscles to become stiff and weak, restricts movement, causes spinal curvature and underdeveloped limbs, and more. She has been in a wheelchair since age 3, learning to operate a motorized chair as a child.
To date, Gray has had 18 surgeries, including rods inserted into her spine to help correct scoliosis.
“Whether a person has disabilities or not, there are always obstacles to overcome in life,” she said. “How we accept ourselves determines our outcome. Welcome new experiences.
“I never know what God has planned for me, unless I pray and accept His will.”
A senior accounting major at Athens State University, Gray plans to graduate in December and pursue a master’s degree.
She credits her parents, Rick and Lisa, for encouraging her to be as independent and active as possible. A graduate of Buckhorn High School in New Market, Ala., Gray was on the soccer team and served as a goalie and cheerleader.
“Lauren has a twin sister, Hannah,” Lisa Gray said. “I’ve taught both my girls to ‘look people in the eye when you speak, to engage people, don’t let people shut you down; speak up for others and yourself. It’s not OK to dismiss me. You are a ‘princess’ … a child of God.’
“When Lauren was born, the doctors said she would not live very long. Well, they were wrong.
“Yes, there have been hills to cross. Feeding tubes, surgeries and medication. Just because someone says, ‘This will happen,’ it may not. Get another opinion.”
Gray said her church, First Baptist Church Meridianville, Ala., has been a source of encouragement for the family.
“Being a member of Meridianville has given me a family to love and support us,” she said.
“Yes, we’ve had challenges. But each challenge reminds me that I’m not by myself. God is there. He will never leave me. I am His child.”
In addition to family and friends, members from FBC Meridianville attended the Miss Alabama USA contest to cheer Gray on.
Receiving the Miss Congeniality Award has given Gray the opportunity to promote the Americans with Disabilities Act, and she wants to encourage people to improve accommodations for those with disabilities.
Gray’s future is bright, but whatever she does, one thing is certain: “My main goal is to spread light,” she said. “God had a purpose in me entering the contest. I know He will use me in enormous ways to serve Him.”