Crowning Achievement

December 27, 2007
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Friends and family cajoled Byron Center’s Shelly Loose for years to enter the Ms. Wheelchair Michigan contest. Last year, she finally did. Now, as her reign as Ms. Wheelchair Michigan 2007 comes to a close in March, Loose has become the new coordinator of the state’s program.

“This is in no way, shape or form a beauty contest,” said Loose, 46, a wheelchair user for 20 years. “Physical appearances don’t play into it, other than you have to be sitting in a wheelchair for 100 percent of your mobility.”

The pageant focuses on advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation. Loose and two other candidates for last year’s crown spent two days in Southfield, meeting with judges and fielding questions.

“A lot of the questions they ask have ‘and why’ at the end,” Loose said. “The judges want to get to know your personality, how you carry yourself, how you would handle questions from an audience.”

A former music teacher, Loose took up the platform of teaching children about disabilities, so she has visited nearly two dozen schools and made many parade appearances since earning the sash. She even spent a week in July in Bethesda, Md., competing for the national Ms. Wheelchair America title. It wasn’t meant to be, but Loose said she found priceless friendships there.

Back at home, Loose was wondering what to do next when the Michigan contest coordinator quit. She decided to take up the role. Now she’s making plans to move the contest from the Detroit area to Grand Rapids, recruiting contestants, seeking sponsors and donations to pay for the event, and plotting ways to boost the impact of the winner’s sash and crown.

Fans of “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” might remember the day 14 years ago when Loose and her husband, Ken, both quadriplegics and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital veterans, were married on the show. They even named their daughter, Katherine, 10, after Kathie Lee.

Loose is launching a Web site, mswheelchairmichigan.org, to boost awareness about the contest.

“One of the things that impacted me a lot (is) at the national we had an Americans With Disabilities Act workshop,” she said. “I had seen a lot of those changes, because I’ve been in a chair for 20 years. It also opened my eyes to how much further we really need to go.”    HQX

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