Let Me Tell Ya 'Bout My Best Friend

Blog from 2015:

To appreciate this story fully – I have to take you back a bit in time. So, last year in June of 2013 I took on the full time job of Miss Iowa.

Nicole Kelly, Miss Iowa, Diversity Speaker

Jenn Cady Photography

This job did include big hair, wearing earrings the size of my face, and walking in high heels for extended periods of time. However, when I look back at my year in this position I don’t think about the scary feelings of watching my name and face blown up in world news as “Disabled Woman To Attend Miss America,” or the hundreds of hours I spent alone in a car driving across the state to make appearances, or the constant pressure to look and act a certain way. Perception verses reality is currently my favorite concept and by being a girl born with one hand it was perception that someone like me could never compete in a competition that had to do with a world perceived to be only based on beauty. Yet, in my year as Miss Iowa it was my job to daily travel and speak on what MY perception of beauty was – and it had nothing to do with what looks were on the outside. When I look back at my year as Miss Iowa I think fondly about the relationships I made and the lives I had the honor to effect.

So me, Nikki Kelly: Someone who was born with only half of her left arm yet was never treated with pity and was encouraged to succeed in everything from baseball to basketball to diving. I was raised to never believe in the word “pity” as it had no place in my life and I succeeded in things I tried because I put forth the effort and care the opportunities deserved. Yet, after I won I became the “queen” of a world I didn’t even realize existed. I became the leading lady of every mother who had a child born with any kind of limb difference. Emails started to flood into the Miss Iowa address at a rapid speed and I learned very quickly that I was representing a group of people that passionately looked to me to change perceptions.

Flash forward to three months after I won Miss Iowa – In September 2013 I was at the coveted Miss America competition and feeling a pressure that is too complex to explain. I was feeling exhilarated to be with girls from all over the country who were intelligent and interesting, I was scared to sing on stage (talking in front of many has never been a problem but singing makes me SOOOOO nervous), I was mad at the organization for pressuring me to interview with media outlets I felt were not credible, and I was excited at the prospect of taking on a job that would lead me to interact with millions. Yet, through all of these emotions, I tried my best to keep my focus in the forefront: The little girls who looked up to me and the parents who looked to me to change perceptions. Cheesy? Maybe, but why else would I volunteer myself to walk in a swimsuit onstage? What I mean to say is that I was willing to take on every single part of the job – be it easy or hard/swimsuit or not – in order to show how much I believed in the good the Miss American Organization was doing in the world.

At Miss America there are three nights of preliminary competition prior to the final two hour long live telecast in which they crown the new Miss America. After every night of competition the girls competing are allowed a precious few minutes to meet with family and friends who have