Nicole Kelly, 23, from Davenport in Iowa, America, beat off hundreds of rivals to take the Miss Iowa 2014 crown and is now hoping to encourage children with disabilities to pursue their dreams.
The Theatre Management university graduate was born without a left forearm, but has never let anything hold her back.
Before winning the pageant last June, Nicole worked on a Broadway play in New York and credits the experience for boosting her confidence and preparing her for the pageant.
‘As I grew up I learned to counterbalance the initial stares I received from people with an outgoing personality that would not give in to no,’ she said.
‘This means that I tried everything. From baseball, to dance, to diving – there is nothing I would not try.
‘I found my passion within a world where I was giving people permission to stare – the stage.’
Now Nicole uses her position to speak about disability in schools and supports a programme providing art opportunities for people with special needs.
And an important part of her work is meeting with parents of children with disabilities.
‘Meeting the parents of amputee and physically differently-abled children has been a shocking experience at times,’ she said.
‘I had assumed everyone else’s parents would be like mine, but many are far more concerned about limiting their child’s lives to protect them from harm.
‘I saw then that I could make a change by showing these parents that their child can and should be able to do anything they want.
‘Once parents accept this, it makes such a huge difference to how their child experiences and responds to their difference.’
Now Nicole has launched a campaign called ‘the power of one’ to encourage people to embrace their differences.
‘Every day I am out in the community speaking with people,’ she said.
‘I encourage people to share their stories about how they’ve felt different and celebrate it.’