The night Cache Valley resident Brittany Stoddard won Ms. Wheelchair Utah 2012 was the 13th anniversary of the very accident that doctors said she would most likely not recover from. “The doctors didn’t think I would live more than three years after the accident, but I’ve surpassed anything the medical community thought was possible for me,” said the 29-year-old. “It has been a long haul getting to this place.” Ms. Wheelchair Utah is a program under the Hull Foundation and is presided over by Utahn Meg Johnson, who was injured during a climbing accident. The annual pageant was Sept. 10 in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City where Stoddard was crowned the titleholder for the coming year, during which she will share her personal experiences and winning platform of “You can” across the state of Utah. “I feel very honored to have won and be allowed to share my story and platform with those throughout the state, which is a wonderful opportunity to really share my experiences with a lot of people who are struggling in those dark places,” Stoddard said. “I’ve been there and done that. I want people to realize through my story that there isn’t anything you can’t do if you have faith in yourself and tweak the circumstances.” A head-on car accident in 1998 on 1000 West in Logan left Stoddard at death’s doorstep and killed her best friend. At the time, Stoddard was a student at Logan High School and 16 years old. Sitting in the backseat, Stoddard was cut in half from her lap belt, severing everything except for her skin. She lost several organs including her right kidney, spleen and appendix and was left with just 3 feet of her intestinal tract; a normal person has 30 feet, she said. She spent 13 months in the hospital. Doctors told her family they didn’t think she’d live more than three years, but sometimes they thought she wouldn’t even last through the night after a surgery. Stoddard then went home for four months, but spent more time in the hospital than out. Doctors decided she’d be better off at Sunshine Terrace in Logan, an assisted living center, where she spent the next five years being fed through a feeding tube. “I got to a very dark state of depression, and my health was very unstable,” Stoddard said. “Finally one day my doctor wanted to see if I could survive without a feeding tube and eat normally. It worked and the cloud that seemed to be over my head was lifting as my health came back and I started to do things on my own. I wanted to do and be better.” Stoddard said that with the emerging medical and assistive technology, as well as laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there’s nothing she can’t do. She hopes to show others that even though people in wheelchairs may look different, there is still so much they can do. “I never should have survived the accident I was in, but because of technology I survived. And I’m able to be 100 percent independent and take care of myself and go out into the world and do different things,” Stoddard said. Currently, she is working at an elementary school and is renting her own home. She is a Utah State University student working toward her nursing degree. “I have the ability to change lives because I can show people the idea people with differing abilities can’t do things is a misunderstanding,” Stoddard said. “We’re not really all that different. Learning I could be independent has helped me gain confidence and faith in myself.” The road to self-confidence has been a tough one though, Stoddard said, because of the ideal body image put forth by the world for women as ‘creatures who are tall, thin and beautiful.’ “The body image thing has been hard for me,” Stoddard said. “I guess I have a body that is disfigured and I sit lower than normal women because of my back injury. But it came to point where I realized it doesn’t matter what others think of me; what mattered was what I thought of myself. And when that mattered I saw a change in myself and how others viewed me because I had more confidence.” Also difficult for her was the feeling nobody wanted to date her because of her disability, but Stoddard came to learn she is her own worst critic as she found out others viewed her more beautiful and positive than she did herself. After deciding that if she dated, she did, and if she didn’t date, she didn’t, Stoddard met her fiancé Richard Cox. “As of Sunday I am now engaged to a wonderful guy, and he loves me for who I am; not in spite of my disability but because of it,” Stoddard said. The process of gaining her self-confidence back included participating in Ms. Wheelchair Utah, but only after agonizing if she should enter the pageant. “I looked at these amazing women with degrees and stories who were going to be in the pageant, and I didn’t think I could compete with that. But as time went on, I felt like I needed to do it,” Stoddard said. About two weeks before the pageant application deadline, Stoddard decided she wanted the experience and opportunity to meet other women like her. “Whether I won or not wasn’t important, I was very excited for the experience to meet the other women. The fact that actually I won was a shock,” Stoddard said. Only a few weeks after being crowned Ms. Wheelchair Utah, Stoddard is fulfilling her role and sharing her story with Utahans. She was in the Utah State University Homecoming Parade on the float for Center for Persons with Disabilities and on Oct. 3 she gave a motivational speech at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden for their month of disabilities event. Also during the coming year, Stoddard will compete in the National Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, on Aug. 6-12, 2013, in Rhode Island. To schedule Ms. Wheelchair Utah for an appearance or speech, which is part of the titleholder’s community service free to the public, visit http://www.mswheelchairutah.org/brittany-stoddard.html. To learn more about Ms. Wheelchair Utah, visit http://www.mswheelchairutah.org. Also find the Ms. Wheelchair Utah organization on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MsWheelchairUtah.
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