Heather Robbins already has a crown, but she might have two by the end of the summer.
The 23-year-old from Seward will go on stage Saturday as the first-ever Nebraska contestant in the Miss Wheelchair USA pageant.
Robbins was a few months into her freshman year at Southeast Community College when she was paralyzed from the chest down. She was a passenger in a one-vehicle accident in 2013 that severed her spine, putting her into intensive rehabilitation programs for a year. She spent several months at Quality Living Inc., in Omaha.
“Heather just had started college life when she had her injury,” said QLI physical therapist Brad Dexter. “Being an adult was new to her. It took an entire team of people to coach (Robbins) to take care of herself.”
Robbins had to learn how to cook, clean, get dressed, go to the store and do other everyday-life activities all over again.
“My family and friends have been very supportive during my recovery,” Robbins said. “(They) helped encourage and push me.”
Now Robbins will compete against other state representatives in the national pageant from July 20-22 in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Her platform is spinal cord injury awareness along with education about adaptive sports for people with disabilities.
Ellie Newman, director of clinical services at QLI, said the rehab center has invited Robbins back to mentor other women. She also helps educate new staff on what it’s like to go through a spinal cord injury.
"I wanted to compete in this pageant to try something new," Robbins said. "I’m very excited but nervous, but it will be a great experience. I’m looking forward to all of the opportunities ahead of me."
Robbins has always been passionate, even through the hardest times in her recovery. She's now back at Southeast Community College studying human services.
“Putting all those pieces of life back together was one of the most difficult parts,” Dexter said. “The fact that she’s thinking about other people and advocating for them — those are really cool things to hear about.”