I was in Columbus, Ga., speaking at the Ms. Wheelchair Georgia pageant. Bad weather closed the airport, and they had to reroute all passengers through Atlanta-Hartsfield airport. They brought vans and moved the crowd onto them quickly. There were fewer and fewer [people] until I was there left on the curb. All the gate agents and airline officials looked at me; no one had recognized that I wouldn't be able to get on a van. And no one was familiar with the resources, the alternatives nearby. They thought about ambulances, private nursing home vehicles, even vehicles at the local Army base. Nothing available. But that's beside the point -- what they were trying to get wasn't even appropriate! They actually brought a horse trailer -- it has a ramp, you know. There we are creating the very image, the stereotype, that I've worked so hard all year, all across this country, to dispel.

I refused. After four hours they reopened the airport, a new plane came in, and that plane went straight to D.C. But what if there hadn't been another plane that day? What if the airport had stayed closed?

I've learned to always have the get-up on hand -- the crown and the sash -- because there are cameras everywhere. But makeup, not necessarily -- especially with personal care assistants not available to help me fix my hair the way I'd like it or put on the clothes I'd like to be wearing. I wanted to portray a real image. You can be beautiful, effective, useful either way -- with or without a crown. The best accessory, for me, is seeing a woman in a wheelchair taking pride in who she is, all that she is. Except when she runs into a horse trailer. It was white, and it did match my outfit that day, but . . . no.

-- Interview by Ellen Ryan