First-ever Ms. Wheelchair Idaho advocates for disabled | People
Kristin Blevins was a passenger in the backseat of her family's van when her life was irreversibly changed.
On Oct. 12, 2011, Blevins was on her way home from helping family members move from Potlatch, Idaho, to McCall. During the drive, Blevins took off her seatbelt so she could doze off comfortably. Blevins' stepfather Brad Poe, who has breathing problems and sleep apnea from working in oil fields, was driving. Seven miles south of Riggins, Poe fell asleep and his 1998 Dodge Caravan went off the side of the road and “traveled another 375 feet before hitting a driveway, which launched the vehicle into the air for 30 feet before it came to rest on its side, trapping three passengers,” according to the incident report in the Idaho County Free Press.
Blevins was airlifted to a hospital in Boise, but she said she didn't need that trip to know that her life would never be the same.
“I go to move after the accident, and I can't move, and I think I'm stuck because of the seat on top of me,” Blevins said. “When I threw my daughter on my lap, that's when I knew I was paralyzed. When I put her on my legs, I was like where'd she go? And she was right there.”
Blevins said that she woke up in the hospital confused and alone.
“I was 21 in college, engaged with a baby and then you end up in the hospital with nobody,” she said. “You're lonely, depressed, aggravated, disappointed in yourself because of all the what-ifs going through your head. Then you feel guilty as a mother because you put your daughter in that car.”
She said that rehab was the most difficult aspect of the aftermath of the accident. While in the hospital, nurses regularly woke up a screaming Blevins as she was having vivid nightmares bringing her back to the wreck.
But from her lowest point, Blevins decided that she was going to make the most of her unfortunate plight. Blevins said the most effective therapy was keeping a journal, and that during that process she got the idea to apply to be Ms. Wheelchair Idaho.
The Ms. Wheelchair America pageant is not a beauty contest: “It is for women who want to advocate for the more than 54 million Americans with disabilities … It is a competition based on advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation to select the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities,” according to MWA's website.
Blevins is the first-ever Idaho delegate, which means that she will be in charge of keeping the program running in the Gem State after her reign is over.
“It's up to Kristin to build the program in Idaho,” said Shelly Loose, president of MWA.
Blevins will have to find future contestants, venues, and judges, as well as secure donations for flowers and food. Loose has full confidence in Blevins' ability to thrive in this role.
“The maturity she has for being a wheelchair user for such a short time, it really seems like she's come to grips with her disability,” Loose said. “I've been in a chair for 25 years, I would say it took me a good 5 years to become comfortable in my own skin. Even now you run across things that frustrate you, I was just so impressed. This girl is on fire.”
Blevins said her Ms. Wheelchair Idaho platform is based on advocating for everyone – disabled and able-bodied – because she has experienced both ends of the spectrum and feels she understands what it takes to be a strong person.
“You can either live your life as a victim or as a survivor, and it doesn't matter if you're in a wheelchair or if you're walking, at some point in your life you're going to feel like a victim,” she said. “I picture bullies and negativity as a cancer. If you cut it out of you when it's small, then it won't consume you.”
But before Blevins can start speaking at schools and performing her duties as Ms. Wheelchair Idaho, she has to raise enough money to attend the pageant in Houston in July. She needs about $3,000, and as of Thursday, Jan. 17, had accrued about $400.
“There are so many scams out there that makes people wonder if (MWA) is a real thing,” Loose said. “They want to make sure this is a real, legit program. She's really facing that uphill battle where she needs to make people aware of the program, believe in the program and then to get people to help the program.”
Blevins is in the process of planning a sausage feed and other fundraisers around the Moscow-area, but insists that she will always be a mother first. Her one-year-old daughter, Autumn Raiyne is active in gymnastics, and Blevins says she does everything she can to ensure a good childhood for her daughter.
“My daughter doesn't miss anything because I'm in this chair,” Blevins said. “That's what pushes me. She'll look back one day and know that her mom was always there.”
Although many would view Blevins' situation as debilitating, Kristin says it has made her a stronger, more patient person. She said she will fight to make Idaho a more ADA-friendly state and to let people know that there is always a way to receive therapy – whether that be via journal or an online support group like the They Walk, We Roll Facebook group she started.
“I want to show my child that if you work everyday, things will only get better,” she said. “When people tell me that I can't do something, I just think, 'watch me.' ”
Click here to donate if you are interested in donating so Kristin can attend the MWA pageant in July.