Alumna creates opportunity, competes for Ms. Wheelchair America crown

Some people move cautiously, but not Maggie Redden. At work or with any of the numerous activities and organizations she assists, Redden moves quickly and decisively to help others or make a difference.

She made her mark that way as a Penn State student and she hopes to do the same with her latest endeavor. Redden competes next week (July 15 to 21 in Houston) for the title of Ms. Wheelchair America -- a competition based on advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation to select the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities.

In her typical style, Redden accepted a challenge and did not take the easy route to the competition.

Because New Jersey does not have a Ms. Wheelchair America state program, Redden, 28, from Jersey City, N.J., went through an application and approval process to be appointed as the independent delegate from the state. As the first person representing New Jersey, she has assumed the additional responsibility of starting a state program for 2014.

”I hope to lead by example and exceed the expectations and responsibilities bestowed upon me,” said Redden, who earned her degree in media studies from the College of Communications in 2007 and works as community outreach coordinator for New Jersey Paralympic Sport Clubs. In that role, she promotes the importance of physical activity, competitive or recreational, for individuals with disabilities.

Redden was born in India and contracted polio that left her paralyzed from the waist down. She was adopted at age 2 by a single mother in New Jersey. Physical and cultural challenges were never a problem, though. She was always active. When she arrived at Penn State, she participated in the Ability Athletics program and later qualified for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, competing in the 100- and 200-meter wheelchair track events. She’s also a certified scuba diver and adaptive ski instructor.

“What seem like unfortunate occurrences, were blessings in disguise,” she said. “They’ve opened many doors for me to step through.

“From a young age, I’ve been athletic and sports have had a monumental impact on my life. Growing up, I was self-conscious about my broad, muscular shoulders. Once I started excelling in track, I grew to love my toned, strong body. After all, it would’ve been impossible to make the Beijing team without them.”

Redden has not focused only on athletics, though. She has made two mission trips to Tijuana, spent 2012 working in Kolkata, India, at a home for orphaned girls -- her first trip to India since her own adoption -- and entered Nike’s Next Field Reporter Competition, advancing to the top 30 nationally.

She also previously competed in the Miss New Jersey Pageant. “I applied on a whim because I had nothing to lose. I was well aware I was the only contestant in a wheelchair, but at the same time, I didn’t care,” Redden said. “I wanted to do it, so I did.”

And, make no mistake, the Ms. Wheelchair America effort represents just part of Redden’s many plans for the future. “I’m physically strong and independent but what drives me is the inner version of these attributes,” she said. “My philosophy: life is best lived in the moment. I hope I’m doing just that.”

To learn more about Redden, visit online.

Last Updated July 12, 2013