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Becoming Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee

Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee posing with a teenage girl

At the age of two, Cyndi Leach contracted the polio virus and as a result, became paralyzed from the waist down. However, Cyndi does not remember anything other than living with the effects of polio. She views her disability as part of who she is and has always found alternative ways to approach her goals.

“I’ve never felt that my disability is tragic. I learned at a young age that I could do anything I wanted to do, I just had to figure out different way to do it,” said Cyndi. 

Cyndi grew up with a role model. Her father, a World War II veteran, was paralyzed on one side of his body after being shot in the head. He was both an inspiration and an example to her in how his disability did not define who he was. 

“I grew up knowing that a disability doesn’t keep you from doing the things you want to do. He taught me how to be adaptive.”

Cyndi remembers a fantastic childhood, one where her parents never overprotected her. They let her try things out for herself. When she was four years old, she started kindergarten in a school for the physically disabled where she was able to receive physical therapy on a daily basis. 

In the fourth grade, Cyndi was mainstreamed into a public school. By 16, she learned to drive and landed her first job. Cyndi mentioned that she was fortunate enough to have great bosses who were willing to make the adjustments she needed to succeed at work. Since her first job, Cyndi has worked with a variety of companies and organizations. 

“I always went into an interview knowing I could do the job. I applied for positions that I knew I would be good at. Most of my coworkers embraced me and my skill sets and good attitude. I’ve always felt that I needed to do every job I held better than anyone else so that the companies would hire more people with disabilities in the future.”

This year, Cyndi competed in the Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee competition and won the title for 2019. Since taking on the role of Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee, Cyndi’s platform “Share the Hope” has been one of encouragement and mentorship to the newly disabled who now use wheelchairs. She has been traveling across the state to various hospitals, sharing this message. 

“I’ve had the experience of being disabled in every part of life. I want people who are new  wheelchair users to know that these wheels are nothing to fear or be ashamed of.  This chair is the key to their independence.  I am so grateful for where my wheelchair has taken me."

Cyndi also seeks to encourage parents of children with disabilities and especially those who are wheelchair users. She is trying to get the Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee competition into the public eye. She feels that if more parents of little girls and women, young and old, are aware of the competition, then more people will be empowered. She also advocates for accessible spaces, such as sidewalks and elevators, with her local city officials. Recently, she participated in Disability Day on the Hill, where she met with her legislators to talk about ensuring the towns in her district are fully accessible. 

“People need somebody to step up and speak up for them. I believe I can make a difference for Tennesseans with disabilities by advocating for ways that we can be more independent. The minute we come to a curb or a doorway that’s inaccessible, it strips us of our independence.”

When her term as Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee is up, Cyndi will continue seeking public speaking opportunities and advocating for herself and for all people with disabilities.