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Heather Whitestone is an admirable woman. She is the first Miss America with a disability. Whitestone was born in April of 1973 in Dothan, Alabama. She is admirable for being strong and dedicated throughout her life. Heather Whitestone was a hard working, determined, and deaf Miss America, who did not let anything stand in the way of her goals.
Her mother always supported her even through the challenging times. She encouraged Whitestone by telling her, “‘You (sic) can do it, Heather. Yes, you (sic) can!'” (Heather Whitestone). Whitestone is the youngest of three sisters. Her mother, Daphne Gray, was a seventh grade math teacher and her father, Bill Whitestone, was an owner of a furniture store. Whitestone’s parents divorced and her father moved to Birmingham. At eighteen months of age, she had an allergic reaction to a diphtheria-tetanus vaccine, which caused a high fever and she was rushed to the hospital (Callahan). She was later diagnosed with Haemophilus influenza virus (heatherwhitestone.com). Her parents learned that she was deaf on Christmas morning. That morning, her mother accidently dropped pots and pans in the kitchen and Whitestone never responded. â€¦”Whitestone lost 95% of her hearing”â€¦ (Kolchik USA Today). At age two, Whitestone received a hearing aid in her left ear (A Joyful Noise). She was not allowed to use sign language at home because her parents wanted her to learn how to lip-read. They wanted her to feel as normal as she could due to her disability. Her parents thought the hearing aid would be easier for Whitestone than learning sign language.
As Whitestone grew older, she tried to live a normal life. She enrolled in a public school where she was the only deaf student. It took her six years to learn her last name (Van Biem). At an early age, Whitestone discovered a love for dancing. According to her mother, Whitestone loved to dance because she fit in with the others. She did not let her disability affect her on the dance floor (Heather Whitestone). Her mother enrolled her in the Dothan School of Dance to learn more about ballet. Whitestone started to fall behind in school due to her deafness. By the age of eleven, she joined the Central Institution of the Deaf in St. Louis. Whitestone had the opportunity to learn sign language and interact with deaf students across the country. “After years of daily speech therapy, she could read lips and speak clearly by age 12 (sic)” (Kolchik USAT 08/08/2002). She then attended an Alabama Fine Arts School in Dothan, Alabama for a year. From there, Whitestone graduated from Berry High School with a 3.6 grade point average (Callahan). Whitestone stated that “High school was lonely. In those four years, I had only three friends” (Heather Whitestone). While doing pageants, Whitestone met many new people but only had three friends because other peers made fun of her deafness. They did not know how to communicate with her because they did not understand sign language and were afraid to talk to her. Some of Whitestone’s peers knew sign language and tried to speak with her, but Whitestone did not know sign language. Whitestone stated that she did not regret going to a hearing high school because “It taught me what I needed to do to survive in the real world” (Heather Whitestone). She faced obstacles that other children her age did not go through which made her a stronger woman.
Whitestone continued her education, attending Jacksonville State University. Whitestone She bravely began competing in pageants. It was not Whitestone’s dream to become Miss America. She started entering in pageants in order to earn scholarships to help pay tuition. One of Whitestone’s first pageants was the Miss Shelby County Junior Miss where she placed second runner-up. She competed in the Miss Jacksonville State University pageant, dancing to the song “How Beautiful” as her talent. That competition led her to the Miss Alabama pageant where she earned first runner-up. Whitestone then competed in the Miss Point Mallard competition which led her back to the Miss Alabama Pageant. Whitestone placed first runner-up the second time. She was ready to stop competing but with her family and friend’s support, she tried one last time. On her third attempt, Whitestone won the title and went on to compete in the Miss America contest in Atlantic City, New Jersey. That same year in 1994, she was crowned Miss America. “â€¦she didn’t (sic) realize it until her runner-up pointed to her. Then she burst into happy tears — joined, undoubtedly, by thousands of viewers around the country” (Van Biema). For her talent, Whitestone danced to the ballet “Via Dolorosa.” Whitestone had such a determination to achieve her dreams. She counted the beats to the music because she could only hear a few sounds and vibrations (Molnar). She overcame her struggles of being deaf and defeated the odds to win the crown. Whitestone was the only contestant to win the swimsuit and talent categories in the preliminary competitions (First Deaf Miss America).
Whitestone’s platform was “Anything is Possible.” She earned $37,000 in college scholarships (Kramer). Whitestone’s words of encouragement and appearances around the country let young people know that nothing could stand in the way of their dreams. Whitestone introduced her STARS program, which “was aimed at showing the others how to achieve ‘Success Through Action and Realization of your (sic) dreamS.’ STARS had five points and they were a positive attitude, a goal, a willingness to work hard, a realistic look at your (sic) problem and a support team” (heatherwhitestone.com). Whitestone helped those who had impaired hearing. Her goal as Miss America was to make an impact on people with or without disabilities. She stated, “I want to help people with disabilities believe in themselves, and I also want to raise awareness among people without disabilities” (Heather Whitestone). Whitestone is caring and believes in everyone.
Being Miss America required that Whitestone travel extensively which left no time for her friends and family. She had to give speeches and being deaf made it that much harder. When she attended receptions, it was hard for Whitestone to understand what the people were saying. Their voices talking all at once sounded like buzzing noises to Whitestone and it was hard for her to read lips in a crowded area (A Joyful Noise). One of her appearances was in front of the Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich at the Capitol Building where she met John A. McCallum. He was a Legislative Aide to Speaker Gingrich and would later marry Whitestone. Whitestone was fortunate to work with several sponsors of the Miss America pageant including Fruit of the Loom, The Walt Disney Company, Chevrolet, Waterford Crystals, and many others (heatherwhitestone.com).
While Whitestone’s reign as Miss America ended in September of 1995, she continued to influence the hearing impaired and to give speeches. After relinquishing the crown, Whitestone married John A. McCallum. They now live in Atlanta, Georgia with their two sons James and John. She still remains politically involved and gives speeches across the country.
One November, Whitestone did not hear one of her son’s screams when he had fallen. This bothered her and she researched having a cochlear implant. She visited the John Hopkins Hospital where she met Dr. John Niparko. He is the Director of Otology and Neurology at John Hopkins, who performs about 130 cochlear implant surgeries a year and operated on the former Miss America (Kolchik USAT 08/08/2002). Whitestone stated that “Dr. Niparko implanted the device in a small depression that he made in the bone behind my ear and inserted an electrode into my cochlea” (A Joyful Noise). It took six weeks of recovery, but Whitestone was able to hear a clap in her right ear for the first time (A Joyful Noise). Only 5,000 people in the United States have two cochlear implants. She then could hear her husband’s and childrens’ voices after the procedure (Former Miss America gets second cochlear implant). “Whitestone joins 70,000 people worldwide – 21,000 in the United States – who have received cochlear implants since they received federal approval in 1984” (Kolchick USAT 08/11/2002). Dr. Niparko gave Whitestone a part of her life back by restoring her hearing.
Whitestone earned many awards and honors. She also made several appearances while being crowned Miss America. She has written two books, Listening with My Heart and Believing in the Promise. Whitestone was invited to the National Press Club in Washington, DC to campaign to identify early hearing loss. She was also an executive board member of the President’s Committee on the Employment People with Disabilities. Whitestone received the Spirit of Achievement Award by Paula Zahn and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She was honored with the Academy’s Gold Plate Award for outstanding community service. Whitestone has been recognized by NBC’s “Today Show”, ABC, CBS, and CNN. She was named Peter Jennings’ Person of the Week and was interviewed by Barbara Walters for the “20/20” news channel and by Jay Leno for the Tonight Show. Whitestone has been quoted in Time and People magazine. In 1996, she was fortunate enough to dance with the Alabama Ballet Company. She represented AmSouth Bank, the Alabama Tourism Board, Express Oil Change, and CitiBank of Asia. After her cochlear implant in 2002, Whitestone became to advocator for the Cochlear Americas. She has also been involved in being part of a music video for the song “How Do You (sic) Fall in Love,” which was written by the country music band Alabama. In 2002, Whitestone made appearances on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “The View.” From 1992 until 2002, she was the board member of the Helen Keller Foundation of Research and Education. Whitestone was assigned by President Bush and Secretary Thompson to the Advisory Council for the National Institute of Health on Deafness and Other Communication Disorder in 2002. She spoke at the Republican National Convention for Majority Leader Bob Dole in 1996 and Governor George Bush in 2000 (heatherwhitestone.com). “She also serves as executive member of the President’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities” (Kramer).
Whitestone relied heavily on her faith in God. Her faith played a major role in her life and she would not be where she is today without His presence. “Heather is proud to say that Jesus became her biggest role model as a young adult and that his influence in her life is the key to all of her success” (heatherwhitestone.com). In Whitestone’s book, Listening with My Heart, she developed another five point program to honor God called “The Daily Prescriptions for Life,” which has five principles including:
Take time to be quiet. Whitestone stated, “Set aside a time for prayer and/or mediation. If you (sic) find yourself saying, ‘I don’t (sic) have time,’ readjust your (sic) priorities, because we have all been given twenty-four hours in a day.” Don’t (sic) forget to dream. “No matter how boring or humdrum you (sic) think your (sic) job is, take time to dream about how you (sic) can make it better.” Populate your (sic) life with positive people. “Positive people plant a tiny seed of faith that grows to be a dream fulfilled.” Forgive the hurt and anger of the past. “Without, forgiveness, the weed of anger will take over the garden of your (sic) heart and choke out joy, love, and peace.” Love yourself (sic) as God loves you (sic). “I didn’t (sic) love myself very much when I was Miss America. I was hurt by other people’s criticisms. Though thousands of people told me nice things, I remember the negatives (Listening with My Heart 200-02).
God impacted Whitestone’s life and gave her many blessings in life.
Whitestone was an admirable Miss America, who faced her physical disabilities with courage and confidence. She received many awards and honors for her bravery and for overcoming the many obstacles in her life. From having three friends to being Miss America, Whitestone has earned the respect of many individuals.
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