Teen Alison Appleby from Sherman, Texas was recently crowned Miss Dallas Teen USA 2022 with her trusty companion dog Brady by her side.
The 17-year-old teenager, who lives with autism and epilepsy, accomplished what she once thought impossible by entering a pageant as a disabled person – and won.
Appleby told Fox News Digital in an interview that the Oct. 9 win came as a complete “shock” because it was her first time attending a pageant.
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“I had never done one before,” she said.
“I bought my dresses three days before the pageant, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”
The pageant newcomer said her whole goal is to be there with her service dog and “to show people that you can do it with a disability.”
“I was still scared the entire time … but having Brady by my side made it so much easier,” she said.
“He is my support through everything.”
Crowns were presented to both Appleby and Brady at the coronation ceremony, although the golden retriever wasn’t the biggest fan of his new jewelry – he was trying to shrug off the sparkling headgear as quickly as possible.
“When they crowned Brady, my heart sank — my heart absolutely melted,” she said.
“He didn’t like it at first, but he got used to it pretty quickly.”
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Jennifer Ortiz, director of the Miss Dallas pageant, told Fox News Digital in an interview that being able to crown both Appleby and Brady was a “fantastic” experience.
“Alison really won the entire pageant in the interview,” she said. “She was just absolutely amazing – the way she spoke was very intelligent, very communicative with our judges.”
“She’s just a phenomenal woman all round.”
Ortiz, a 20-year-old pageant veteran, said once officials learned Appleby would be competing with their service dog, the pageant bought a small crown if Appleby won.
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“And if not, then my dog would have a new Halloween costume this year,” says Ortiz, laughing.
Dallas-based Ortiz, who is leading the pageant for the first time this year, said her focus is to be inclusive – sharing that Appleby’s win has already “opened a lot of doors.”
“To see someone come in and spread that awareness so well — and she was just phenomenal from the start — it was very heartwarming to see her crowned,” she said.
Appleby shared that she was “just excited to go” as attending pageants had been a seemingly impossible dream for her.
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“It took me a few days to understand that I won, but I’m still in shock,” she said. “I never expected that to happen.”
As someone with no prior pageant training, Appleby said her goal was to prove that having a disability “doesn’t mean you shouldn’t chase your dreams.”
“I’ve always dreamed of being a pageant girl, but it never seemed like I could make it,” she said.
“The judges didn’t let my disability change their view of me – they were judging me as a person.”
“You don’t have to give up life just because you have an illness.”
For parents with special needs children who want to get involved in the pageantry, Ortiz encouraged them to try.
“I think that we all have that inner strength that we can draw from – and that can sometimes shine despite whatever limitations you have.”
Appleby’s message to other young people with disabilities is “Embrace it”.
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“Don’t let your setbacks make you give up on your dreams,” she said.
“You can do it – and you can be successful.”
She also said, “You don’t have to give up life just because you have an illness.”
Appleby described living with disabilities as “tough” after being misdiagnosed for 16 years.
Appleby was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, but her epilepsy was mistaken for anxiety – and she was often accused of using drugs at school, she said.
“I have focal seizures or absent seizures, so I’m staring into space,” she explained.
“Sometimes I speak and it sounds like I’m speaking a different language, but it sounds perfectly normal to me.”
“I was constantly tested for drugs, although I’ve never used drugs in my life,” she said.
Appleby is homeschooled by Bridgeway Academy today, her mother, Beth, explained.
“Bridgeway Academy is one of the few programs that still uses text and workbooks and handwritten answers,” said Beth Appleby — as opposed to online learning or screen time.
Alison Appleby said her epilepsy was diagnosed in May 2021 which “finally gave her life meaning”.
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Appleby was placed on a waitlist to get a seizure alert dog following her diagnosis – and was reunited with Brady in late July 2021.
Eighteen-month-old Brady will be trained until he is two years old. He learns how to warn others when Appleby is having or about to have a seizure.
Brady will also learn to get hold of medication and snacks to help raise Appleby’s blood sugar and blood pressure.
“He’s pretty much stayed with me since I’ve had him,” she said. “He’s my best friend and we’re inseparable.”
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The Miss Dallas Teen pageant is an official recruitment system for Miss Texas USA – meaning Appleby will be competing for the Miss Texas Teen title in May 2023.
Appleby will continue to be involved in philanthropy as a longtime volunteer and spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association, she said.
The pageant queen is also an archer for the Junior Olympic Archery Development Program.
She competes with a nonprofit team called Archers4Tobi that raises money for cancer patients.
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“I’ve always wanted a way to give back and give more,” she said.
“Part of the appeal of pageants was having that platform to raise awareness.”
“It’s just been part of my lifestyle since I was little, and pageants are based on that [on],” she added.
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“That’s what you use your platform for – and personally, my platform is now being used to advocate for disabled people.”