By Josh Saunders
A teenager called an ‘ugly freak’ and bullied for being in a wheelchair is defying her critics by winning a beauty queen crown.
Nila Morton, 18, from Greenville in South Carolina, USA, has a rare form of muscular dystrophy that has deteriorated the muscles in her legs and left her needing a wheelchair.
She was four-years-old when her mother Christie Hentz, 40, noticed her legs were weakening and that she was unable to perform physical tasks like riding a bike.
Over time, her condition worsened, meaning she needed leg braces, then a walker and now is only able to travel short distances before needing her wheelchair.
At school, she was cruelly bullied for being in a wheelchair and told that she was an ‘ugly freak’, ‘a burden’ and that ‘no one would love her’.
But the tenacious teen turned criticisms into self-confidence by pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a model – after recognising a lack of models with disabilities.
Since then she’s competed against able-bodied competitors in beauty pageants and won Miss Mauldin Teen USA and Miss Congeniality at Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2017 last November.
Nila, a student, said: “I’m a girl who has been bullied for having a disability and being different.
“I’m embracing that I have difference and want to show others that they don’t need to change for society.
“I was told that I might as well give up on my goals because no one would pay attention to me because I am ‘disabled’.
“They would say that I am a ‘freak’, a ‘burden’ and that ‘no one would love me because of my disability.’
“I was bullied really badly, but it helped me to find my self-worth, my confidence and taught me to love myself.
“I’ve always dreamed of becoming a model, I believe beauty comes in different shapes and sizes and know that my disability doesn’t define me nor my beauty.
“I wrote into a pageant and told them that while I’m a girl with a disability and have to use a wheelchair, I should be on the same stage as girls considered ‘normal’.
“Since then I’ve won several titles competing against able-bodied people, which I think is really important and I’m making an impact by inspiring others.
“Little girls who were watching the pageant said they wanted to be just like me when they grow-up, which I think is really great and reinforces why I’m doing this.
“It’s important to show that people with disabilities can compete in pageants, I don’t think there should be pageants solely for disabled people, because we are all human and have differences.”
Nila was born with both hips dislocated, one of the early signs of muscular dystrophy, but it wasn’t recognised until she was ten-years-old.
In 2009, doctors diagnosed her with Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy – which affects one in 5,000 people worldwide.
Nila said: “It started from me not being able to ride a tricycle, to then not walking up the stairs, then always getting tired.
“Braces were put on my legs to support them, but it didn’t work and I had to use a walker, the year after that my body slowed down more and I needed a wheelchair.
“Now I use my walker to help me to keep my muscles active, I can travel short distances with it, but normally need to hold onto someone.”
Additionally, the condition saw her lung capacity decrease and meant she would eventually need breathing apparatus at night to stop her body being suffocated of oxygen.
Despite the problems she faced, Nila was encouraged by her mother who instilled in her that she would still lead a normal life.
Nila said: “My mum never treated me like I had a disability, I never thought I had one in my eyes and was like any other normal kid.
“I know I can do anything I want to but that I just have to do it differently.”
After overcoming years of torment from bullies about her disability, Nila decided to pursue her dream of becoming a model.
She recognised there were not many models with disabilities on magazine covers and decided she wanted to change that.
Nila said: “I am representing young ladies who are overweight and picked on for that, for people with disabilities or differences, whether that’s skin colour, hair style or whatever.
“I believe my confidence is what has attracted people, I have the ability to be a voice for people with disabilities and with my sprit I’m showing the judges who I really am.”
Now she’s regularly participating in beauty pageants and the talented teen has picked up the titles of Miss Congeniality and Miss Mauldin Teen.
Despite her success, Nila maintains that participation is more important than winning to her, as it shows others with disabilities that they can follow their dreams too.
She added: “I may not be able to win a crown but to be able to show I have a disability and still compete is the most important thing.
“We should love people for who they are and I want to show that beautiful is about embracing your differences.”