Daredevil dreamer Abbey Curran was told she’d never compete. Little did her critics know that the fastest way to get her to succeed was to tell her she couldn’t do it.
That’s how long Abbey Curran fought for a shot at the crown in her hometown Fair Queen pageant. She never won.
So imagine the judges’ surprise when that same sparkle-eyed, dimple-smiled singer with cerebral palsy landed the Miss Iowa tiara in 2008.
“Pageantry became a dream when someone said ‘There’s no way you’re going to win,’” Curran laughs of her Fair Queen days. “That definitely gave me drive and determination. That’s what gives me the drive to do great things—when someone says I can’t do it.”
Curran took her lessons from the pageant stage at the fair to set her sights on a bigger prize. Determined to show the world that someone with a disability could be a contender in the national pageant circuit, she hired a personal trainer and worked harder than she dreamed possible to earn the coveted Miss Iowa title.
On the national stage, competing as the first contestant in history with a disability to vie for Miss USA, Curran showed everyone that the main thing holding back people with disabilities isn’t the disability—its people telling them what they can and can’t do.
“I don’t want to be needy or dependent,” she says. “It’s usually more efficient for me to do things myself. Don’t assume people with disabilities want the whole helping package. We never know what we can do unless we try. There’s nothing to lose by trying.”
With her success, Curran appeared on television talk shows and as a speaker around the country with her inspirational message.
“Accomplishment begins with the words, ‘I’ll try’,” she says. “Everything we use in life, someone did first. Someone invented an airplane. Someone invented Zoom. Why can’t it be me? Why can’t it be you? It can be. It’s just that a lot of people aren’t dreamers anymore, and we have to fight through the negativity to prove that these things can be done.”
“We have to fight through the negativity to prove that these things can be done.”
To encourage other women with disabilities to step out and dare to dream, Curran launched the Miss You Can Do It pageant, which became the subject of a documentary on HBO, in 2004.
“If you truly believe in yourself, any dream can come true,” she says. “It looks like a beauty pageant, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about building confidence. It’s about knowing that those of us at the pageant have your back. We know you can handle it, and we’ll really praise you for how well you do!”
“I try to put inspirational things out there,” Curran says. “If you’re living your best life and fulfilling your dreams, you don’t have to care about the people saying you shouldn’t be happy or shouldn’t be breaking the glass ceiling. I am living proof that reaching for the stars can make all the difference in the world.”
And that’s all the proof we need.
You can keep up with Abbey’s career on her website.