|In a Special Moment, Davidson's McArthur Wins Ms. Wheelchair America Title
August 16, 2010
Contact: Bill Giduz
It had been an unbelievable week of empowering friendship, capped off by the unreal and joyous moment when she, Alex McArthur ‘09, was selected from 27 peers to become Ms. Wheelchair America 2011.
|(l-r) Director Julia Jones and Administrative Assistant Marie Reedy will be working now with a Queen in the Chidsey Program office.
McArthur had undergone three interviews with a panel of judges, presented a formal short talk, and responded to a pair of questions in front of a hall full of people.
Still, despite all that close scrutiny and examination, the pageant executive director wanted assurance that McArthur would honorably represent the organization in the year to come. So as McArthur signed her contract just before her long drive home, the executive director asked her quietly, "You are an ethical and moral person, aren't you?"
"That was the easiest question all week," McArthur said. "I just told her, ‘I went to Davidson!'"
McArthur, a cum laude graduate and current Davidson Fellow in the Chidsey Center for Leadership Development, was still overwhelmed as she returned to work Monday morning from a whirlwind week of activities at the pageant. "I'm a little bit in shock, but extremely honored," the 22-year-old said. "It means a lot to have been chosen among such incredible women. I'm looking forward to representing them all in public."
She never expected to win. Getting acquainted with, learning from, and sharing with other state winners was reward enough. Entrants and their families supported each other closely throughout the five days of workshops, interviews, and social events at the Amway Grand Hotel in Grand Rapids, Mich.
On Saturday night, after stylists from Paul Mitchell did their hair and makeup, all 28 women lined up on stage wheel-to-wheel. The tableau of dignity and grace led to a spontaneous standing ovation from the audience. "We all felt the support and pride. I think everyone felt like a winner," McArthur remembered.
The judges then called out the names of the five finalists. After the fourth name was called, McArthur reminded herself what a wonderful week it had been. Hearing her name called last came as a shock. Each of the five finalists then drew two questions to answer in front of judges and the audience. McArthur fielded one question on treatment for disabled veterans, and another on which sports could be effectively adapted for disabled players. (Her answer was "badminton.")
After all contestants had responded, the judges retired to quarters to deliberate. When they returned, McArthur faced another countdown, beginning with fourth runner up. "I expected to hear my name every time the judge spoke," she said. "I didn't expect to win, so I didn't expect to get emotional. But I certainly did! It was obviously a very special moment."
Last year's Ms. Wheelchair America, Erica Boden, presented McArthur with the crown and sash of office. The presentation was especially meaningful for McArthur because Boden lives near Concord, N.C. In fact, as Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina of 2010, Boden had also presented McArthur with her state crown in April.
McArthur's travel and expenses to the pageant were supported by the Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation, friends, and her parents, Margaret Herman '79 and John McArthur '77 of Cary, N.C. Her parents were not in attendance because they spent the weekend helping Alex's sister Park '06, who is also in a wheelchair, move to New York City to begin a nine-month fellowship at the Whitney Museum of Art. Both women have muscular dystrophy. Alex was escorted to Grand Rapids instead by her boyfriend, Owen Fitzpatrick '09, who immediately began texting the news to family and friends when the crown was won.
Then began a happy evening of interviews, a finale dinner, and dancing with friends until 3 a.m. After presiding at an early-morning Queen's Breakfast on Sunday, McArthur and Owen drove for 12 hours straight back to Charlotte. "We had so much adrenaline going we didn't get tired at all," she said.
McArthur is eager to represent the pageant organization during the year ahead. Her duties will include promoting awareness of the need to eliminate architectural and attitudinal barriers, informing the able-bodied public of the achievements of people with disabilities, and assisting to establish programs in all 50 states by promoting Ms. Wheelchair America. She will have the opportunity to travel to visit advocacy groups, make public appearances and speak with the media.
In addition to general advocacy for disabled people, she will stress the subject she presented at the pageant as her platform -- the importance of employment for handicapped people.
She wants to assure employers that concern about the cost of accommodating disabled workers is unnecessary. It's often cheaper and easier than employers expect, she said. She will also stress the importance of people with and without disabilities interacting in the workplace. She said "meaningful inclusion" can help both groups understand one another. "My being employed at Davidson gives my coworkers access to something they wouldn't have otherwise," she said. "That is, to have continued contact with people with disabilities, in a day-by-day, very practical way."
She realizes that her new status represents an enormous new commitment in addition to her full-time job. "I'm trying to be very intentional about processing and organizing things now," she said. "It's a dream I didn't know I had, and now that it's occurred it feels surreal. But it's a great opportunity to represent not only disabled citizens, but Davidson as well. It's already been a life-changing week, and I know it will be a life-changing year. I'm just going to try to hold on and see what happens!"
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.