Woman to make history as first contestant with autism to compete for Miss Florida crown

Rachel Barcellona will be the first person with autism to compete in the Miss Florida pageant. (Credit: Rachel Barcellona/Instagram)
Rachel Barcellona will be the first person with autism to compete in the Miss Florida pageant. (Credit: Rachel Barcellona/Instagram)

A woman is breaking barriers and making history as the first contestant with autism to compete for the Miss Florida crown.

Rachel Barcellona, 22, has Asperger’s syndrome, which is a form of autism. The Tampa Bay, Fla., resident will be competing in the Miss Florida pageant, beginning with the preliminary competition which is scheduled to take place in Lakeland, Fla. on June 25.

While Barcellona is preparing for the competition, she told Tampa news station WFLA-TV that she wasn’t always confident and faced backlash and negative comments growing up.

"I was basically promised that I would never graduate any school really or have any friends,” Barcellona told WFLA-TV. “Pretty much everything bad was going to happen to me because I have autism.”

But this outlook on life didn’t sit well with her, or her family. Her mother was determined to make sure her daughter felt supported and was successful. Barcellona told WFLA-TV her mother wasn’t going to let things slide.

"She was like, ‘I will be dead before that happens,’” she told the news outlet. “So I wouldn't be anywhere without my mom, who is a nurse practitioner, and she is just wonderful, I love her.”

Barcellona is also thankful for public support and the chance to be able to share her story and lift up people will disabilities.

“Public opinion and support have been amazing!” she told Yahoo Lifestyle. “I am so happy to be sharing my story and my true hope is to help other's not only with autism but with all disabilities to realize their dreams.”

In an Instagram post, Barcellona acknowledged how important the support of others has been in her journey.

As for her talent, Barcellona is studying voice and is an opera singer.

“I'm continuing to work on my vocals and I'm singing ‘Climb Every Mountain,’ which is a very meaningful song and I hope it inspires others,” she said.

Barcellona told Yahoo Lifestyle that her goal is to “inspire others and to teach them that they should never give up on their dreams.”

While she’s focusing on becoming Miss Florida, pageants aren’t her only passion. Barcellona is a spokesperson for the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the University of South Florida, and also is on their advocacy board. She was named an ambassador for Unicorn Children’s Foundation, which is a non-profit organization helping children and young adults with developmental, communication and learning disorders.

Barcellona is not the first competitor with autism to participate in the pageant world. In 2013, 18-year-old Alexis Wineman won the “America’s Choice” award at the Miss America pageant, where she was the first-ever contestant with autism. She was named Miss Montana in 2012.

Yahoo Lifestyle reached out to representatives for the Miss Florida competition and will update this post when we hear back.

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