I held my breath as I squeezed the hands of the two girls next to me. My eyes were shut as I prayed silently and turned to my friend and said, “I really want this.” Right before they announced the winner I looked over and saw my mom smiling as I shook my head saying, “Nope, it’s not me.” Then all of a sudden I heard, “Now the moment we’ve all been waiting for, this year’s winner of Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2017 is (long pause) Katherine Magnoli!”
I had done it after 2 years of participation. I had finally become the advocate for all people with disabilities. I began crying tears of joy because I knew in my heart this was not an easy road. Being a 32 year old woman who has had more health and emotional trials than most people experience in a lifetime has not been easy, but I never gave up hope and always wheeled through life with a smile on my face. Even after some of the hardest times—like being put on dialysis, or when my father passed away, both of which left me angry for a long time.
I still knew somewhere deep in my soul that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
The first time I saw a glimpse of that light was in March of 2011 when the first story in my book series, The Adventures of KatGirl, got published. A dream that I had conjured up one day at my condominium’s pool when a boy told me he felt sorry for me. A moment that proved to me that I was done watching the world pass me by and wanted to actually participate in it. Hence, the creation of The Adventures of KatGirl, was born. A story about a super hero in a wheelchair who helps kids who are being bullied. This is a topic near and dear to my heart because being a person who dealt with bullying throughout my childhood, I wanted to reach out and teach kids the importance of being accepting of those of us who are physically different.
After a year and a half of hard work and arguments with a publisher and an illustrator, I had finally reached my goal and I remember crying out of joy when this happened.
When all was said and done, I immediately began working hard to promote my message of acceptance for those living with a disability. I spent countless hours contacting schools and book stores to get the word out. It took 3 months and then it happened—a bookstore called me to put my book on their shelf! I was so happy! I knew that this was only the beginning; from there the ball rolled on to my doing more and more book events at schools.
Now six years later, I am proud to say I have read to thousands of children. This accomplishment has helped me gain confidence to embrace my full potential or what I like to call my “Youbilities.”
Youbilities is a term I came up with that helps people embrace their abilities despite their inabilities. I am very passionate about this because it is, in my opinion, the best way for us to show the world that we are more than what meets the eye. Thus changing the way people perceive those of us living with a physical, mental, or invisible challenge.
This is the best accomplishment of all because it opened up doors to opportunities and challenges I never dreamed of. I have been able to expand my advocacy to adults by first and foremost, writing stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul entitled, “Anything is Possible”, my story of perseverance and my journey from a person who viewed the world and became an active member in it. I also participated in two advocacy programs at the University of Miami Mailman Center for Child Development. The first was entitled, The Emerging Transformational Leadership Program, and the second being Self Advocacy Leadership Training.
Being a part of these fantastic groups gave me the resources on how to network and advocate more often and with more strength.
This then lead to the Bold Beauty Project, a collection of photos that showcases women with physical differences as beautiful human beings.
I had a life changing experience with this because it was the first time I really let the world see me for me, and I stopped hiding behind a computer screen or pen and paper with my writing. I was chosen to model in a photograph for the project; something I never in my wildest dreams ever imagined doing. However, I decided to go forth and do the photo shoot. Now let me just tell you this was one of the best things I have ever decided to do in my entire life. The amount of self confidence I gained from this one day of taking photos is something I will never be able to put into words. I was able to dig deep and go outside my comfort zone and embrace myself as a beautiful, confident woman.
This was my personal gain along with being able to form a bond with the other models who are now like family to me and who I consider very close friends.
Today I facilitate the League of Stupendous Storytellers Group held at the Center for Independent Living in South Florida. This group takes place on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month from 6-7pm located at 4770 Biscayne Blvd. We get together to share articles we write on various topics such as advocacy, depression, driving, getting dressed, just to name a few. We focus on these topics because they are the ones that show our struggles and triumphs of people living with physical challenges. We then post the articles on the League of Stupendous Storytellers Facebook page in order to educate our readers on our daily lives. We feel this is a good way to educate society on what it is to really live in our wheels.
I also have recently begun a journey into radio by serving as a co-host for a weekly online show called Brain Matters. You can listen to it every Wednesday from 4 to 4:45 on www.weinetwork.com. The show highlights people with all levels of challenges who are tremendously accomplished in spite of obstacles, and who go out there and help others as well.
I am truly blessed to do all of this and I owe it to that one moment when I decided not to let the world pass me by and to write a story that in the end, changed more than just a child’s point of view. That is truly enough for me, but it did so much more than that.
In my free time I love participating in adaptive sports such as tennis and surfing. I also enjoy painting, a talent I never knew I encompassed until I was able to truly see my Youbilities despite my many challenges.
All of these things are wonderful and I can say they were the reason I was lead to the light at the end of the tunnel where the Ms. Wheelchair Florida Pageant was—a weekend long event that helps women living with physical challenges speak out about important issues that they would like to help change in their communities.
I originally heard about this wonderful event in 2015. Every year I climbed up the ladder of achievement by getting 2nd runner up and 1st runner up my first two years. I never gave up though, and my third year I made the decision that I would go in there with a new mindset. I had begun to see the pageant in a different light than the previous years.
I saw it as a chance to really expand my advocacy, connect with the other girls, and not so much gain the pretty crown to wear on my head. All this hard work paid off, and I was announced winner of the pageant! Now almost a month later, I have been busier than I can ever remember being because I am doing whatever I can to promote my platform of Youbilities to any and every person I can.
I want to help those who doubt themselves and view the world as an outsider that the time is now to embrace your abilities. As my short story in Chicken Soup for the Soul says: Anything is possible, and the moment that you decide not to let the world pass you by is the beginning of a new life filled with opportunities for you in ways you’ve never dreamed! So folks, the moral of the story is to never give up on yourself, always keep trying and believing, because you can and will achieve anything if you put your mind and heart into it.
Have questions or comments for Kat? You can mail her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maybe you’re interested in reading her book series, The Adventures of Kat Girl! You may find them online at this website.