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Miss Iowa, former Shriners patient, is changing attitudes about disabilities

Born without her left hand, 24-year-old Theresa Uchytil — Miss Iowa 2000-2001 and a former patient of Twin Cities Shriners Hospital for Children in Minneapolis — doesn't see herself as disabled. Wanting to change attitudes, she is the first woman with a visible disability to compete for the crown of Miss America.

Miss Iowa, Theresa Uchytil
Sioux City Journal
photo by Angela Tague Copyright 2000

"It's very important to me to know that my life is making an impact on others," she explained.

Raised in Urbandale, Iowa, as the middle of five daughters born to Liz and Vern Uchytil, she became a patient at Twin Cities Shriners Hospital at age 2. Visiting the hospital every six months for checkups, she first received a prosthetic hook-style hand, which helped her to develop the muscles on the left side of her body, and later received myoelectric and cosmetic hands. For her, using a prosthesis is no different than wearing contact lenses or braces.

During the Miss America welcoming ceremony in Atlantic City, N.J., when she stepped up to the microphone to give her introductory statement, Theresa told her fellow contestants to keep an eye out for her prosthesis. "If you see one lying around, it's probably mine," she said.

While participating in the preliminaries for the nationally televised Miss America competition, she did not wear her prosthesis during her swimsuit or evening gown appearances — only during her interview with a panel of judges. A former national baton-twirling champion who led the band at Iowa State University for five years, Theresa also left the cosmetic hand backstage during her fast-paced talent routine.

Days before the pageant, she was selected as first runner-up for the "Quality of Life Award" scholarship, based on her Miss Iowa platform of educating the public about Americans with disabilities and how to obtain care through programs and organizations such as Shriners Hospitals. As Miss Iowa, she would like to travel to many of the Shrine Temples and all 22 Shriners Hospitals to motivate children with disabilities.

Since early in her life, she simply learned to do things differently. At the age of 6, a friend asked her to take baton lessons, which evolved into private lessons because of her budding abilities; she learned to toss a baton with her right hand and catch with her left arm.

"I owe a lot of my success to the fact that my parents always supported me," Theresa said. "We had a rule in our house — once you start something, you just don't quit. No exceptions. When I wanted to be a baton twirler, nobody asked me if I could do it; my only concern was could I be the best."

Theresa remembers a day on the grade school playground when her prosthesis came off and some of the kids laughed and yelled, "Captain Hook!" She got back on the monkey bars and went across it using her right hand and left arm. "The kids stopped laughing," she said. She went on to participate in volleyball, basketball, track and student government throughout school.

Graduating from the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State in 1998, she received a speech communications degree. Today, she is a program manager for higher education at Gateway Computers, taking a one-year leave of absence to fulfill her duties as Miss Iowa. With scholarship money received from participating in the Miss America Pageant, she plans to continue her education by obtaining an MBA degree with an emphasis in marketing.

August 23, 2001

You may contact Theresa at Tuchytil@aol.com

IOWA HOUSE RESOLUTION NO. 16
BY METCALF and RAECKER

A House Resolution honoring Theresa J. Uchytil.

WHEREAS, Theresa Uchytil was crowned Miss Iowa 2000, on June 10, 2000; and

WHEREAS, Theresa Uchytil has been twirling baton for nearly 20 years, achieving such high honors as becoming the World Open Strut and Solo Baton-Twirling Champion and the Head Majorette Instructor for the Marching Auxiliaries of America, and playing basketball, softball, and other sports, in spite of the challenge of having been born without her left hand; and

WHEREAS, Theresa Uchytil refuses to be defined by her handicap and seeks to encourage people, regardless of their challenge, to overcome the obstacles in their lives; and

WHEREAS, Theresa Uchytil adopted as her Miss Iowa pageant platform "Facing the Challenge", which involved plans to educate the public about Americans with disabilities and how to obtain care; and was selected first runner-up for the "Quality of Life Award" in the Miss America pageant due to this platform; and

WHEREAS, Theresa Uchytil is a national spokesperson for the Shriners Hospitals for Children, and was appointed a national advocate for the Americans With Disabilities Act; and

WHEREAS, Theresa Uchytil's achievements surpass mere outward beauty, and exemplify personality traits and perseverance that all Iowans should embrace; NOW THEREFORE,

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, That the House of Representatives congratulates Theresa Uchytil on her successful reign as Miss Iowa 2000, recognizes her talents and personal achievements, and wishes her great success in her future endeavors.

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