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After surviving a coma, woman in wheelchair makes beauty pageant history

Now, she has her eyes set on Miss USA 2021!
Madeline Delp strives to be a role model for other individuals who also use wheelchairs.
Madeline Delp strives to be a role model for other individuals who also use wheelchairs.Diana Dirschel
/ Source: TODAY

Madeline Delp made history when she became one of the top 10 finalists of the Miss North Carolina USA pageant last weekend — and she already has her sights set on going even further next year.

"I am very intrigued with the idea of competing next year. It will probably happen," the 25-year-old told TODAY. "Maybe Miss USA 2021 will look a little different."

Not only is Delp believed to be the first woman who uses a wheelchair to place in the finals of a statewide Miss USA pageant, but she also earned another accolade: Miss Congeniality.

Madeline Delp competes in the swimwear competition during the Miss North Carolina USA pageant.Diana Dirschel

Competing in pageants wasn't something Delp ever thought she would do.

The North Carolina native was 10 years old when she was in a car accident that left her in a coma. When she woke up, she was paralyzed from the waist down. Role models and encountering others who looked like her were incredibly rare, she said, which made adjusting to life in a wheelchair isolating.

It wasn't until four years after the accident that she said she first met another person in a wheelchair. Even then, Delp said seeing people who looked like her in the media was incredibly rare.

"I had someone reach out to me and said I should apply for Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina. I had never heard of it and didn’t know wheelchair pageants were a thing," she said.

Delp ended up taking a chance and joined the pageant, since she said it would be a "safe zone" and "there would be people who look like me."

In 2017, she won the title of Ms. Wheelchair USA and traveled around the United States as the pageant's ambassador.

The experience of traveling around the country and speaking to different organizations was "growth by fire," she said. That's what inspired her to enter Miss North Carolina USA next.

"I had to become a whole other version of myself that was strong and passionate and I found a part of me that I didn’t know existed," she said of her first pageant experience. "That’s what sparked this fire to test the boundaries in so many different areas, specifically in the world of disability."

While Delp said she was nervous, it was important for her to keep pushing herself to try new things.

"I was having to stop a lot of insecurities that were coming out from seeing girls with legs for days and having to get around the stage differently," she said. "I was trying to not get into my own head and compare and just focus on the goal.”

Madeline Delp was one of the top 10 finalists in the Miss North Carolina USA competition.Diana Dirschel

Delp knows how important her top 10 finish is for people who use a wheelchair, and that's one of the big reasons why she plans to keep pushing forward with her goal to win Miss USA.

"I want to show people how you can go out and say to hell with the circumstance. I am going to go out and be the best me that I can be and I think that is the real motivation," she said.

Delp poses for a photo in her evening gown.Diana Dirschel

When she's not competing in pageants, Delp runs a nonprofit called Live Boundless and has traveled around the world as an ambassador delivering wheelchairs to people in need.

She wants people of all ages who use wheelchairs to have plenty of visible role models.

"I want them to see they have a group of people around them who look like them and are doing big things and aren’t scared of what society may say," Delp said. "There are so opportunities for them, whether it’s athletics, their career, pageants, becoming president. They can do anything."