Bliss Welch grew up playing soccer and climbing trees, but when she had difficulty climbing the stairs of her family home at 17-years-old, she knew her life was about to change. Her diagnosis of muscular dystrophy didn’t stop her.

Bliss Welch

Bliss Welch

“After my diagnosis, I was told my muscles were going to deteriorate to the point where I would no longer be able to walk. In a blink of an eye, my future seemed so uncertain to me. I began to wonder if all my hopes and dreams would come true. As scary as this was, I soon realized life is more about the steps you take. All of my dreams were going to come true as long as I was willing to adapt,” Welch said.

The UTC graduate student was recently named Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee.

According to the Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee website, a competition is held to select the most accomplished and articulate spokesperson for persons with disabilities across the State of Tennessee. UTC graduate student Jean-Marie Lawrence won the title last year.

“Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee is not a beauty pageant. They’re looking for someone to be a spokesperson for people with disabilities. I’m going to try to be a positive role model and educate people and raise awareness,” she said.

After completing her master’s degree in accounting, Welch hopes to continue her education and become a college professor. As Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee, she focused on showing people what life is like as someone with a disability.

“I want people to know I may live my life in a wheelchair, but I’m not confined to a wheelchair. I live a very normal life. My day-to-day activities aren’t different from anyone else’s,” she said.

The idea that everyone is equal despite their differences is Welch’s focus as Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee.

“Everybody is different, but everybody is equal. Some of us wear glasses, some of us use a wheelchair, some of us use a walker, but we’re all the same. It’s about acceptance,” she said.

Welch gets her positive attitude from her support system of family and friends and her 17-month-old daughter Annabelle.

“Having a disability is not a reason to stop living your life and dreaming big. Most of the time the only person stopping you from making your dreams a reality is you,” she said.

Welch will compete in the national competition in Houston, Texas on July 15-21.

You can follow Welch’s year as Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee on her Facebook page and blog.

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