A native of Keokuk, Iowa, 23-year-old Kelly had never competed in pageants before beginning her run for Miss Iowa. The woman, who was born with no left forearm, won more than $10,000 in scholarship money and a place in the Miss America Pageant in September 2013.
One of the few Miss America contestants in history to compete with a visible disability, it’s only fitting that Kelly’s pageant platform is “Overcoming Disabilities.” Interestingly, two of the only other visibly disabled Miss America hopefuls were also from Iowa: Theresa Uchytil, who competed in 2000, was born without a left hand, and Abbey Curran, who suffers from cerebral palsy and won the 2008 Miss Iowa title.
“As I grew up I learned to counterbalance the initial stares I received from people with an outgoing personality that would not give into ‘no,'” Kelly wrote in her official Pageant bio. “This means that I tried everything from baseball to dance to diving — there is nothing I would not try. I found my passion within a world where I was giving people permission to stare: the stage.”
Kelly, who was performing on the Broadway stage prior to her Miss Iowa win, graduated from the University of Nebraska in 2012 with a degree in directing and theatre management.