Student directs her fifth and final Miss Amazing pageant
A brother with a profound intellectual disability, a sister who competed in pageants and a passion for helping others -- that combination of characteristics led Maddie Lorenzen to become state director of the Iowa Miss Amazing Pageant.
Lorenzen, a senior speech-language pathology major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is now preparing to direct her fifth Iowa Miss Amazing Pageant, an annual event for girls and women with disabilities. The 2017 pageant will be held Feb. 17-18 at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
"I believe it gives girls with disabilities another opportunity to gain confidence in a supportive and fun environment," Lorenzen said. "It focuses on their abilities, rather than their disabilities. The participants also get paired with buddies which is a good promotion of inclusion because it helps us understand disabilities and realize that we all have similarities."
A native of Omaha, Lorenzen and her family started volunteering with Miss Amazing in 2010. Jordan Somer, the organization's founder competed in pageants with Lorenzen's older sister and invited the family to help. At that time, Nebraska was the only state with a Miss Amazing Pageant. In 2011, the organization expanded to hold pageants in nine other states, including Missouri, where Lorenzen's sister became the first state director.
Somer recognized Lorenzen's passion for Miss Amazing and suggested she begin the Iowa Miss Amazing Pageant. Lorenzen agreed, becoming the state director during her junior year in high school, and hosting the state's first Miss Amazing Pageant as a senior in 2013.
"It was hard to get people to take me seriously at first because they hear pageant and think of 'Toddlers and Tiaras,'" Lorenzen said. "But once I got the first few parents to sign up, they really helped spread the word."
Lorenzen's goal was to have 25 participants at the inaugural Iowa Miss Amazing Pageant. She ended up with 50, which was the largest state pageant at the time. It has grown every year and, in 2017, she will welcome 100 contestants to the stage for the two-day pageant.
The pageant includes eight age divisions with participants at the 2017 Iowa Miss Amazing Pageant ranging from ages 5 to 67. The oldest division, Shooting Stars, and the youngest, Rising Stars, do not crown queens. The other six divisions will have a queen chosen to advance to the National Miss Amazing Pageant.
“Crowning is really special because every girl gets a crown and a trophy so they all feel like winners because they are,” Lorenzen said. “It takes a lot of guts to go out on stage and give it your all. I get anxiety just giving my director’s speech and these girls don’t hesitate to strut out on stage like it’s nothing. It’s so impressive – I wish I had the confidence that a lot of the participants have.”
While at the pageant, each contestant is paired with one or two “buddies" -- volunteers who sign-up to help the girls and women throughout the weekend.
“The friendships I see grow throughout the day are incredible,” Lorenzen said. “Many of the participants truly see their buddies as their best friends and rely on them for support. Even if they don’t express it, the buddies mean a lot to the participants and I always remind volunteers of that if the day gets long or they are dealing with difficult tasks."
Lorenzen is preparing to pursue a graduate degree in speech and will take her final bow as the Iowa Miss Amazing state director this year and work as assistant director in 2018. Kayleigh Begley, pageant cofounder and Lorenzen's friend from high school, will take over directing duties.
“This position is constant communication with people so I don’t know if I’d be able to give the time and devotion the pageant deserves with grad school,” Lorenzen said. “Being the assistant, I can help in different ways, especially the day of the pageant. It was a really hard decision, but it’s time for a new director. I just want it to continue to grow and still be the best it can be, and I think it will.”
Reflecting on her five years leading Iowa Miss Amazing, Lorenzen’s passion shines through her smile as she talks about what the event means to her.
“It stems from having a brother with a profound intellectual disability and having people tell him he can’t do this or that. A lot of these girls have heard that too -- they hear the ‘you can’ts’ in life -- so this is something that they can do and feel as comfortable as possible. The most rewarding thing is seeing how much these girls grow and how much everyone appreciates them throughout the day. They should always feel that way.”
To learn more about the Iowa Miss Amazing Pageant, click here.