A native WBR woman was crowned Miss Wheelchair Louisiana 2013 on December 17, 2012.
Anita Chermise Gray, 41, a native of Winterville, was awarded the honor on the 13-year anniversary of the spinal cord injury that put her in a wheelchair.
Gray’s spinal cord injury was the result of a car accident in 1999 that nearly took her life.
“I was 28-years-old, working at LSU, full of life and great plans for my future,” she said. “Plans that did not include a permanent disability.”
After the accident, Gray was brought to Baton Rouge General in Mid-City and stayed there until she began rehabilitation at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans.
Upon being discharged, Gray went back to Winterville to live with her mother.
“After living with my mother for eight months, I decided to become independent again,” she recalled. “I found a wheelchair accessible apartment and moved into it on the one year anniversary of my paralysis.”
She said that throughout the entire process of that first year, the prayers and support of her friends and family helped her physical and emotionally recovery process.
Gray, who now works from home as a full-time technical support advisor for a major company, began to grow in her independence, and has since purchased a wheelchair van in which she drives.
Last year, while attending the Abilities Expo in Houston, Texas, Gray saw a booth for Ms. Wheelchair America and found that the state of Louisiana did not have a platform.
Once back home in Baton Rouge, she contacted officials for Ms. Wheelchair America about including Louisiana in the organization and was able to help begin the state’s first Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana competition, which helps select the most accomplished and articulate spokesperson, statewide, for people with disabilities.
According to Gray, the state’s representative must be able to communicate the needs and accomplishments of her constituency to the general public, the business community and the Legislature.
“I am proud to have brought such a well-respected, positive and forward thinking program for women with mobility impairment into the state of Louisiana,” Gray said, adding that she will go to Houston July 15-21 to represent the state at the Ms. Wheelchair America 2014 pageant.
Gray visited and spoke with a special needs class at Devall Middle School in February, and read a story to second grade students at Brusly Elementary School.
“My goal is to acclimate them to viewing a person with a disability as a normal part of the human experience,” she said.
Later this year, Gray will host a Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana 2014 pageant.
“After passing on the title to another determined and vibrant woman I will become State Coordinator for the pageant,” she said.