CHELMSFORD — Natalie Didona is a 16-year-old rising junior at Chelmsford High School who takes karate lessons at Alpha Martial Arts, attends choir lessons, skis in the Special Olympics, swims on the his school and dreams of going to university to become a scientist.
These talents, along with Natalie’s personality and creativity, were on full display at the annual Miss Amazing of Massachusetts pageant, where girls and women with disabilities build confidence and self-esteem through stage performance, interviews with judges and social activities with their peers. .
Natalie was born with Down syndrome, and when her mother Barbara heard about the contest through a Facebook group for other mothers of children with Down syndrome, she thought it would be perfect for Natalie – after all, she loves to wear fancy dresses.
“Whenever we have a family reunion or a vacation, you always get up and offer a toast, so going on stage is kind of like that,” Barbara Didona told her daughter. “There are only a limited number of opportunities for disability groups and families to meet and talk to other families. … It’s an amazing experience to be part of.
The pageant, held on April 9, was Natalie’s first, but she still managed to win the teen category, making her the state’s teen representative. She and her family are now set to attend the National Miss Amazing pageant, to be held at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, later this month.
Miss Amazing aims to give girls and women leadership and communication skills to stand up for themselves and be proud of who they are. Girls with disabilities specifically need support – the Miss Amazing website states that women with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty and less likely to work for pay than their male counterparts.
The organizers seek to respond to this reality by defending these women and encouraging them to achieve their goals.
“We offer girls and women with disabilities the opportunity to reflect on their goals, step out of their comfort zone and build support networks,” reads the Miss Amazing website. “By investing in girls with disabilities, we nurture a strong community of leaders who challenge stereotypes and advocate for change, creating even greater opportunities for the next generation.”
As in beauty pageants and similar contests, each Miss Amazing contestant can showcase one talent. For years, Natalie took karate lessons, so choosing her talent was pretty easy.
Onstage, Natalie’s father, Kevin Didona, held two wooden planks to her as she performed a hammer punch and a front kick to break them. Barbara Didona said her karate instructors gave her a few extra coaching sessions just to prepare for the contest.
Natalie plans to perform the same routine and speech in just a few weeks.
“Oh my God, I’m so excited,” Natalie exclaimed. “(Making speeches) is my specialty.”
Besides the competition itself, Natalie and other girls do arts and crafts, pet therapy dogs, play games, do yoga and other activities that keep them all “engaged”, Didona said.
The introductory speech, which Natalie wrote herself, highlights all of her interests and reminds her family and the public why she is in the contest.
“I want other girls with Down syndrome to be proud of themselves,” Natalie said in her speech. “I love being a teenager and a model, and I love being part of Miss Amazing.”
When asked if she was nervous for the competition, Natalie shook her head and said, “No.”
Natalie said she was very much looking forward to just being on stage, and the competition will be fierce – the local competition had around 35 people in each age group, but Didona said there were 180 participants expected to attend. Nashville this year.
Ahead of the contest later this month, Natalie has been fundraising for the trip in her neighborhood, with plans to also visit local businesses, Didona said. Getting out into the community and talking with people, she added, has helped her daughter tremendously.
“I like it because it’s very empowering for girls and women with disabilities. They really come out on stage and are so invested in showing you who they are. It’s very moving,” Didona said. “The public gets into it so much. Everyone is screaming and clapping like crazy for these girls.
Natalie will also wear two new dresses for the competition – pink and purple, her favorite colors.
“We’re all looking forward to this experience and cheering on Natalie,” Didona said.