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Meet the Miss America contestant who was told she would never walk

When Miss Utah Krissia Beatty was 2 years old, doctors told her parents she'd never be able to walk.
/ Source: TODAY

When Miss Utah Krissia Beatty was 2 years old, doctors told her parents she'd never be able to walk.

"Basically, they just handed me to my parents and said, 'Here's your daughter. Here's a wheelchair. And that's all we can do,'" Beatty told

She had been diagnosed with spina bifida occulta, a gap in the spine. "It affected my left leg more than my right," she said. "It wasn't that common back then. To hear my parents tell it, they sat in the parking lot for two hours and cried."

Miss Utah Krissia Beatty during the preliminaries of the 2016 Miss America Competition.Donald Kravitz / Getty Images

But the doctors were wrong, Beatty said, and through physical therapy, the young girl learned to walk. Now the 22-year-old will walk across the stage in Sunday night's finale of the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

"I was just lucky," said Beatty, who's from St. George, Utah, and is one of 52 women competing for the Miss America title. "I ran track in high school and I was a swimmer. Running causes me pain but it's not so intense that I can't do it. I just ran track to prove I could overcome this."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that spina bifida occulta is the mildest form of spina bifida and usually does not cause any disabilities.

Miss Utah Krissia Beatty competes in the swimsuit competition during the first night of preliminaries of Miss America on September 8, 2015.Mark Makela / Reuters

Beatty, whose mother, grandmother and aunt all competed in pageants, never expected she would follow the same path. After winning scholarship money in a local pageant, she was ready to call it quits. But she kept finding herself back on the pageant circuit, encouraged by friends and fans and even her university to sign up "one more time." After losing Miss Utah the second time around, "I thought, I am honestly done this time," Beatty said. "I said, pageants aren't my thing. They're an expensive hobby and I gave it a good run."

But in June, Beatty competed for a third time in the Miss Utah pageant and won the title. She advanced to the Miss America competition, which airs live on Sunday night.

Beatty is an ambassador for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, the Miss America Organization's national platform and also a cause close to her heart — the network helped pay for her treatment as a kid.

"I have three brothers and we were all born with a medical disability," she said, explaining that her older brother was born with a concave sternum, a younger brother was born with an immune deficiency and another younger brother with bilateral club foot.

Beatty thinks her own condition, and seeing what her family has been through, has helped her overcome other non-medical challenges.

"I remember not being able to walk," she said. "I remember seeing my friends and realizing I couldn't do those things. So now, no matter what obstacle is in front of me, I know I can overcome it."