ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Born without her left forearm, Nicole Kelly has been overcoming disability her entire life, be it playing baseball, dancing or diving.
Now representing Iowa in the Miss America pageant, Kelly hopes to win the crown and inspire others to overcome their own difficulties. She chooses to focus on what she has rather than what she lacks.
"The reason I'm here is not because I'm a public interest story," she told The Associated Press in an interview Monday, in between rehearsals for three nights of preliminary competition that starts Tuesday. "I'm here not because I look different but because I have the intelligence, I have the ability and all the things that Miss America needs to have.
"I'm proud to represent those who look differently, but it's about what you can do and how you celebrate it," she said. "I'm just like you."
She said she developed an outgoing personality "that would not give in to 'no'" as a way to deal with the stares she often got.
The 23-year-old resident of Keokuk, Iowa, a Mississippi River town, Kelly said she never let her disability stop her from doing what she wanted. She played baseball, swam and dove, danced.
"I just did it," she said. "There never was an issue. No excuses, nor should there have been."
Kelly said people she met while growing up generally went through three phases: the first was when she approached them, because they were too intimidated to approach her. The second was when they grew comfortable enough to ask her questions like, "How do you do your hair?" or "How do you tie your shoes?"
The third phase "was when they completely forgot about it" and just saw her as Nikki, not a person with a disability.