Winning Ms. Wheelchair America means something different for each recipient.
For Baton Rouge’s own Karen Roy, it meant having a platform for advocacy.
In 1987, Roy was shot in the back during an armed car robbery outside of Tabby’s Blue Box on North Boulevard. She suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury. She was only 19.
But Roy never let this life-changing event keep her from achieving her goals. She went on to earn two degrees, relearned how to drive using hand controls, got married, began working in social work and had three children, now 25, 21 and 18.
Her lifestyle has been in part thanks to the technological devices she credits with keeping her healthy—and as Ms. Wheelchair America, she is now trying to spread awareness and increase access to them.
During rehab after the shooting, Roy discovered bicycles that use electric stimulation to keep muscle tone. Today, she also has a robotic device that enables her to stand so she can move around the house and use her hands to cook. Patients with paralysis who are immobile can often develop pressure wounds. Roy has managed to avoid major complications because she’s stayed active.
“When I tell physicians or nurses that I’ve never had a wound in 31 years, it’s unheard of,” Roy says. “That should be the norm.”
After Roy was honored with the Louisiana title and raised enough money for nationals, she went on compete against all the candidates from other states and ultimately win Ms. Wheelchair America. In the national competition, she was also crowned with the lifetime achievement award and Miss Congeniality, the latter chosen by the other 25 contestants.
As Ms. Wheelchair America, she travels to abilities expos, children’s hospitals, schools, parades and events. She will serve until July 2019, when she will pass the tiara to the next winner. Until then, she’s looking forward to sharing her message across the country.
“I felt like I had been saying the same thing for 31 years, and until I wore a tiara as Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana—well, it was the first time I really felt listened to on a larger scale,” she says. “I don’t think I realized that you really are a role model to a lot of the younger people that you meet with disabilities at these events. … Meeting and taking pictures with a lot of the kids has been the most touching and surprising part.”
CHATTING WITH ROY
If you weren’t doing your current job, you’d be: Interior decorator
Your spirit animal: Tiger
Your personal motto: Just do it.
Something you want to accomplish in 2019: Finish the first draft of my book.
Click here to read about the rest of our People to Watch in 2019.
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.