When Madeline Elizabeth Delp was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident, she didn’t think she could be happy again, let alone compete in and win a beauty pageant. But that’s exactly what the 25-year-old did when this weekend when she won the title of Miss Congeniality in the Miss North Carolina USA pageant—in her wheelchair.
Delp, who is from Asheville, says she competes in pageants to change the way that the competitions view beauty.
“I was 10 when I learned I’d never walk again and that I’d lost control of my bladder,” Delp wrote for Glamour in a poignant personal essay. “My self-esteem plummeted, the belief that I wasn’t pretty enough to get up on a stage like Sandra [Bullock in Miss Congeniality] further compounded. I suffered from depression and anxiety for years, and even though I always tried not to show it, I was really struggling.”
Delp decided getting out of her comfort zone might help her combat her depression and anxiety. So, she participated in the Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina pageant. And she won. And then she won Miss Wheelchair USA. She got the confidence she needed to compete in Miss North Carolina USA 2018, where she made the top 15.
She was the first person to compete in Miss North Carolina USA in a wheelchair.
“It was one of the most difficult and uncomfortable experiences that I’ve ever had. But it was also amazing,” Delp wrote.
This year, Delp was determined to compete in Miss North Carolina USA again—and win. And even though she didn’t get the ultimate prize, she did help break boundaries for people in wheelchairs by winning Miss Congeniality and coming in the top 10.
Delp wrote about the experience of competing on her Instagram, explaining that “her heart is heavy that I wasn’t able to bring home the crown for every single one of you out there who have been cheering me on and also for anyone who has been told by society that they can’t do something.”
“But I am very proud for how far I have come in order to be the strong woman you saw on stage, despite all that has tried to keep me down,” she added.
Delp isn’t ready to give up on her goals. She’s ready, but is Miss USA?
“Is Miss USA ready for someone in a wheelchair? I believe so… maybe they won’t get it this year, but I certainly hope that is a barrier broken soon.”