• Madeline Delp

The Journey of Preparing for a Pageant

When people think about the traditional pageant contestant, a few things seem to come to mind: big hair, bikinis and a weeping winner that has just received her crown. While each of these points can certainly be involved in a pageant (trust me, I’ve had my share of big hair), it is by no means the sum of what pageantry entails. Through this article today, I get to share with you the inside story of what it takes to compete in pageantry and the real reason that many girls get involved.

If you have followed my story before, you know that my pageant journey began when I was competing in Ms. Wheelchair NC and Miss Wheelchair USA. These competitions were a huge leap for the shy, insecure, little me, because I had no desire to get out on a stage and be a ready victim for public judgement. Who wants to open up themselves to be vulnerable to strangers to pick out their strengths and weaknesses? What motivated me to get past these fears was the desire to find an outlet to use my injury for good, and the position of a titleholder seemed like a perfect first start.

After winning Ms. Wheelchair USA and spending a year traveling the country empowering people with disabilities to live their fullest lives, I realized that I wasn’t ready for my pageant journey to be over just yet. I had seen the power behind the crown and sash – that suddenly you were given a platform and a voice; a tool to gain people’s attention, and then use that attention to make a meaningful difference in the world around you.

I had gone through all of the “wheelchair” pageants at that point and was HIGHLY intimidated at the thought of going into a pageant where I was no longer the norm, but rather the one that stuck out like a sore thumb. “Would the “normal” pageants even accept someone who used a wheelchair?” I wondered. It wasn’t until a local business owner encouraged me to compete in the Miss Asheville USA system that I realized my dream could be possible, and that I couldn’t allow myself to make any more excuses when it came to competing again. That next year I found myself competing in Miss North Carolina USA!

When I made the switch from competing in Miss WheelchairNC to Miss North Carolina USA, I knew that there would be prominent differences in preparation. What I didn’t realize was just how much commitment I would actually have to have when prepping for the Miss USA state system. While there was certainly the element of physical preparation, it was the mental preparation that made the entire difference in how I would perform.


Every pageant has a loooong list of outfits that you have to bring – there are many activities involved in the competition that the contestants have to be a part of, and in each one you want to look your best! The most important piece of clothing that you will buy, however, is your gown. The way that you carry yourself in your gown is what will help the judges to see you as a true queen.

When you try on gowns in a wheelchair, a whole host of issues appear that many others don’t have to think about. I have torn dresses by rolling over them, flipped out of my wheelchair when trying them on, and yes, even had an accident in them. (Go to to see what I use!) I should probably also mention the epic meltdowns I have had in gowns while curled up in dressing rooms after experiencing a sequence of all these issues in a row.

I first had to accept that my journey would be very different than the others competing. While I would certainly face different challenges than the other girls, I couldn’t allow myself to make excuses or let it get me down.

I also learned to become a bigger advocate for myself when trying on gowns. It became very important for me to let them know exactly what help I needed and the kind of dress that would work for the wheelchair. Sometimes people can be pushy with their own ideas, but it is important to stand up for yourself when you know what works best for your body. Another important lesson I learned was to be as PREPARED as possible. This involved wearing the appropriate padding necessary (especially when trying on $3000 dresses) and practicing with the fabric diligently so that I mastered how to wheel gracefully with a long train. Here is what it looked like when I most recently performed on stage!

But the MOST important element of preparing for the gown competition is how you carry it. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many sequins are on your dress or how beautifully it is designed. What matters is the confidence you are able to show as you glide in it and the way you portray yourself as a true queen. You must have a beauty that shines much deeper than the makeup or the fancy fabric and be able to radiate confidence throughout the entire stadium.

This was a skill that I later took with me not just through pageantry, but in the rest of my life. Life is a stage – so hold your head high and radiate strength, grace, and kindness to everyone you meet!


After my car accident, I went to a myriad of recovery centers and physical therapists in order to retrain my body to adapt to the wheelchair and learn to use the damaged muscles to the best of their ability. I grew up thinking that my recovery activities were really the extent of my health regimen and that I didn’t need to do much else.

When I first hired a trainer to help me to prep for Miss NC USA, my whole perception of a healthy lifestyle changed DRAMATICALLY!

Let’s start with the physical fitness. When I began my journey towards top fitness, my trainer went over every possible option for cardio and weight workouts that I could physically do. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized how much I had been limiting my options up to that point. I had been telling myself for years that there were things I was not able to do, and that I wasn’t responsible for my lower health level because I was trapped in circumstances beyond my control.

Suddenly, I was faced with the reality that I was completely in control of my physical fitness – only I could take the blame for the years of my suffering health. My trainer helped me to change my ways and replace them with power habits such as:

· Committing to 2-3 cardio workouts per week

· Completing 2-3 weight workouts per week

· Eating up to SIX small healthy meals a day

· Drinking half a gallon of water a day

· Getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night

While committing to this fitness schedule began for the main purpose of appearing healthy and fit on stage, the experience has taught me a much more important lesson for the rest of my life. First of all, we alone are responsible for maximizing our strengths to become the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be: in our health and fitness, relationships, career, personal life etc. Whenever we make excuses for ourselves, we automatically steal a piece of our future potential.

Here is a montage of several of my training activities!


The first time I went into a pageant interview, I was completely unprepared. I thought that I would be able to hold a conversation with no issues and that it would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, I was very, VERY wrong. They asked me hard-hitting questions about my goals for the future, my accomplishments, and probed into the very core of who I am. I realized how exactly non-self-aware I really was, and that I was again making excuses because of false ideas I had been carrying around about myself.

“You aren’t charming enough to hold their attention.”

“You don’t have the confidence to pull this off.”

“You haven’t achieved enough accomplishments to impress them.”

These thoughts swirled around in my mind so often that they became my reality. Once I became aware that I was allowing these falsehoods to control my future (in pageantry and in my life as a whole), I wanted to grab as many of them up as I could and toss them out the window!

One of the ways I was able to do that was by working with interview coaches. You guys know that I am a huge fan of finding mentors and coaches – they can help to elevate you with wisdom and support in ways that you never could have on your own. This is exactly what happened when I began working with my coaches (I found several in order to gain different perspectives) and they helped me to clearly identify my goals for competing, vision of myself as Miss NC USA and as a leader in general.

One of the techniques you often go through is finding out about yourself. The judges can ask such a wide variety of questions about who you are and what you are truly made of, that you have to know yourself in and out. Let me hit with you with a few random questions to see if you can come up with answers on the spot:

· Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

· If you could relive any part of your past and change something, what would it be?

· When you get up in the morning, who do you see in the mirror?

· What do you believe that your purpose is in life?

The key is not to necessarily memorize the answers to 1000 possible questions, but rather to know yourself through and through. This is a strategy that has actually helped me in so many other areas of my life. By getting clear on what I want, what my purpose is and exactly what I believe, I can be more intentional when working toward my goals every single day. This is a practice that will help you not to just say the right things in an interview or social situation, but rather DO the right things.

Lessons from Pageantry That EVERYONE Can Apply

While there are many other facets of preparing for a pageant and being a titleholder that I could go over, these are without doubt the three most important pillars.

You must clothe yourself with the confidence and strength of a warrior; you must have the willpower to take care of your body and mind; and you must be highly self-aware, with a clear vision to change the world and use your skillset to bring the highest benefit possible for everyone around you.

If you simply looked at that last sentence, you wouldn’t necessarily think that it would apply to a pageant, would you? The point that I hope to have showed you through this article is that pageantry is essentially a training experience for women to become the best versions of themselves and learn how to use their strengths for good in this world. If we could begin to change the stereotype of pageantry to the definition I listed above, people would drastically change their view of what it takes to compete in one!

While I am not advocating for all of you reading this article to join a pageant (even though, if you’re interested, you 100% should!), my main goal is to encourage you to think about what outlet YOU can find in your life that will force you to take more responsibility for your actions and push yourself to be a better version of yourself. This could be activities such as:

· Signing up for an Iron Man race

· Becoming more involved in local government

· Taking night classes in something you’re passionate about

...or many other activities that push you out of your comfort zone! Go out and find your “pageantry” – your springboard to a better you. Never forget that all it takes is the commitment to redefine your negative beliefs about yourself. You can adopt a new version of who you believe you are in your mind and live it out to the best of your ability.

Because remember, life is a stage – so go out and rock that stage like nobody’s business.

(If you haven’t seen yet on social media, several days ago I placed TOP 5 IN MISS NC USA! I am honored to have increased the record for the highest that anyone in a wheelchair has ever made it in a Miss USA state pageant!)

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