NEW PALESTINE — A pink sash emblazoned with “Indiana’s Miss Amazing” draped nicely over her shoulder. It matched perfectly with the sparkling crown sitting atop her head.
Lauren Black, 16, likes all things girly — particularly pageants, where she gets to dress up, put on make-up and dazzle a crowd of supporters.
The New Palestine native recently was crowned winner of the fifth annual Indiana Miss Amazing pageant, which celebrates young women with disabilities. Along with top honors in the regional contest held at Purdue University, Lauren, who has Down Syndrome, earned a spot in the National Miss Amazing contest, which takes place this week in Chicago.
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The first Miss Amazing pageant, conducted in Nebraska in 2007, was the brainchild of a Special Olympics volunteer who wanted to give the athletes she worked with a new outlet; through a pageant, she found a way to help contestants focus on their beauty, unique attributes and talents — rather than their disabilities. Today, Miss Amazing pageants are conducted in 30 states nationwide.
Lauren dreams of going to college, becoming a veterinarian’s assistant and getting married one day. She loves dancing and enjoys performing; she can be found holding pom-poms at New Palestine High School sporting events as a member of the Dragons’ cheerleading squad.
She sees the pageant as a chance to prove to others something she has known all along: she is more than her diagnosis.
“Don’t limit me,” Lauren said with a smile.
Miss Amazing pageants give girls and women with disabilities a supportive environment to build their self-esteem and confidence, organizers said.
The pageant is designed to put participants in an environment that promotes inclusion, said Lexie Costa, co-director of the Indiana Miss Amazing pageant. Young women with special needs work alongside people without disabilities, who serve as a teacher and friend while helping them prepare for the contest, she said.
Costa met Lauren during this year’s competition and served as a mentor to the young contestant. Costa said enjoyed watching Lauren and the other Miss Amazing girls grow and achieve their goals during the pageant.
“It gives them a chance to interact not only with other women and girls with special needs, but they also get to have a buddy and work closely with others without disabilities,” Costa said. “They’re all on an even playing field.”
During the Indiana Miss Amazing competition, Lauren showed off her dancing talents, dressed in formal wear for the pageant walk and told judges all about being a triplet to sisters Alex and MacKenzi during the interview portion of the event.
In Chicago, Lauren will compete against 25 other girls in her age category from across the United States for the national title.
Tracy Black, Lauren’s mom, found out about the state-level contest through a friend and knew right away it was something Lauren might excel in.
Getting ready for pageant was a challenge at times and took a little help from the whole family, but it was well worth the work because of the confidence it has helped Lauren build, she said.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for Lauren,” Black said. “She’s the type of person who wants to do things by herself, and this helps her establish who she is.”
Taking part in the state and national Miss Amazing programs, along with being part of the Miss Indiana pageant, are things Lauren won’t soon forget, she said.
“I’m happy about doing it,” Lauren said. “We get to open doors for people with special needs.”