Constable: Miss Amazing Illinois trying to bring out the amazing in others
We are awash in the lingering pain of mass shootings, weighed down by the fallout of Jan. 6 hearings and worried about our environmental challenges, Supreme Court rulings, political angst and the many injustices of the world. Finding anything that brings a touch of joy to our hearts these days would be amazing.
That's a job for Gloria Fisher, Miss Amazing Illinois. The 29-year-old Crystal Lake woman has a knack for raising spirits in a world that won't seem to give us a break.
"The news was so terrible last week. It was a depressing holiday," concedes Fisher. Being our state's Miss Amazing inspires her and the people she meets.
"I like this because it gives people with disabilities an opportunity to do something fun, and look amazing, and feel amazing, and show society they can be more than their disability," Fisher says, as she models her crown and sash on the couch of the home she shares with five other women in a program run by Clearbrook, which serves 8,000 children and adults affected by intellectual or developmental disabilities.
"Winning this made me feel like I could do anything, that I actually got recognized for talent that I didn't realize was recognizable," Fisher says.
She impressed judges with her poise, did well during the interview session and performed a rhythmic gymnastics routine to win the state competition in the senior division (ages 28-35) for girls and women with disabilities in April in Naperville.
She's headed to the National Miss Amazing Summit in Nashville, Tennessee, July 29-31. The missamazing.org not-for-profit is run entirely by volunteers. It charges each family just $100 for the three-day event. To offset the cost of lodging and transportation, the contestants, including Fisher, are seeking donations through the saq2022.funraise.org/fundraisers website.
"It really is a place where they feel they belong, and they feel like everyone else," says Miss Amazing Vice President Kimberly Somer, whose daughter, Jordan, founded the charity 15 years ago at age 13, and now serves as its executive director.
"They come together in a celebration of what individuals with disabilities can do, instead of what they can't do. They inspire us."
Fisher is competitive, but she says her goal with Miss Amazing isn't a bigger crown and a new sash.
"I want to get more girls to see how they can get amazing," Fisher says.
She didn't always recognize amazing qualities in herself while growing up in South Elgin with her mom, Yvet Fernandez, and her younger sister, Kristina. As a kid, she watched Miss USA pageants and "Toddlers & Tiaras" with a perception that a girl such as her on the autism spectrum could never do that.
"I can't, because no one is going to take me because of my disability," Fisher remembers thinking. "I was a scaredy cat when I was younger. I didn't have any friends at all because people thought I was weird."
By middle school, "the bullying was getting too much," Fisher says. Her mom enrolled her in Harvest Christian Academy in Elgin, where, Fisher says, she made friends, whom she kept when she went on to St. Charles North High School. Taking a blend of special-education classes and some higher math classes, Fisher graduated in 2011 and took some classes at Elgin Community College.
She works in a workshop in Woodstock and also has a job at the Clearbrook West office in Crystal Lake, where she scans documents, shreds papers and performs other office work. She has a driver's license but prefers to take her bike or public transportation. She goes to events in the city, such as Taste of Chicago, by herself.
"You take a bus, you take a train and then take another bus," Fisher says. "I'm really good with directions."
Fernandez says her daughter always has been amazing to her.
"She's a leader," Fernandez says, explaining how Fisher always works hard to include everybody, especially those who might feel as if they are different.
"I think it's amazing that people are being more accepting of people's disabilities, and also people's life choices," Fisher says. "I was surprised they overturned Roe vs. Wade. Wow! That's going to turn our country back."
She says women, especially those with disabilities, could be vulnerable. "They will be stuck with this child they can't take care of," she says.
Competing in her first Special Olympics in 2010, Fisher says she realized she had some talent for artistic gymnastics, but the tumbling proved a bit too taxing. "I started to get wear-and-tear on my body, so I went with rhythmic gymnastics," she says. Those routines can use balls, ribbons and hoops.
She credits 30-minute sessions with Coach Denise of the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association for teaching her the sport.
"I practice on my own and watch videos," says Fisher, who can practice in almost any location. "While waiting in line, I'll get in one of my poses and see if I can hold it longer. I like competing, and I like showing off how good I am."
Fernandez says her daughter nailed her routine in the state competition but still was surprised to win.
"To have something recognize me to be talented in any way made me feel really special," Fisher says, recalling that she was fine when she thought she was a runner-up.
"They started to put the princess crown on me, and then they took it off and said, 'No, our queen is Gloria,'" Fisher remembers, explaining how the officials immediately replaced the small princess tiara with the queen's crown. "Oh, my gosh. I can't believe it. I won."
She says it would be amazing for others to experience that feeling. She'll enter next year's Miss Amazing Illinois contest, even though past winners are not eligible to win again.
"We're going to all do it together," Fisher says. "I'm trying to get one of my other housemates to win."