Since Abbey Curran's inspiring life story aired in a June 24 HBO documentary, the Kewanee woman has 8,000 unread e-mails.
"We've got a high volume of interest in the pageant," Ms. Curran, 25, a St. Ambrose grad and Miss Iowa 2008, said of "Miss You Can Do It," the pageant she founded in 2004 and the name of a new 90-minute documentary produced for HBO by Ron Davis.
It will air again at 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday on HBO.
The pageant, held in Kewanee,is for girls age 4 to 25 with disabilities ranging from spina bifida to Down syndrome.
In 2008, Ms. Curran became the first woman with a disability—cerebral palsy—to compete in the Miss USA pageant. A write-up about her in People magazine caught the attention of Mr. Davis, who came to film the "Miss You Can Do It" pageant for a documentary first shown at the Sundance Film Festival.
HBO picked it up, and Mr. Davis had to re-film everything. The documentary "celebrates the heroism of their parents and families, who openly describe how the heartbreak of learning that their child was different quickly gave way to loving patience, dedication and a new appreciation for the joys and challenges of raising a child with special needs," according to hbo.com.
"I hope that my Miss You Can Do It girls leave this pageant knowing that, 'OK, we might fall down, or someone might stare at us, but I just did something amazing. Something that not very many people get to experience,' " Ms. Curran said.
A New York Times review said part of what makes the film effective is "the sheer range of the disabilities represented..." Some contestants can't walk or can do so only with difficulty. Others can't speak or can barely be understood when they do.
The judges Ms. Curran recruited "beautifully combine sensitivity, patience and respect," the review said.
"Mr. Davis catches the excitement of the pageant nicely, but the real strength of this documentary is that he takes the time to show several of the families' day-to-day lives, something invisible to anyone but close friends," the NY Times said. "The parents of these children talk movingly about coming to grips with the news that their child would be disabled and about the ensuing rewards and struggles."
The pageant idea came after a friend of Ms. Curran, who has severe cerebral palsy, said her parents wouldn't let her enter a pageant because they feared everyone would laugh at her.
Mr. Davis said in thedailybeast.com that he was brought up to not stare or ask questions of people with disabilities. "This pageant blows every preconceived notion out of the water about what a pageant could and should be about. This one is about empowering these little girls, about celebrating what is right about them; it's about celebrating their beauty on the inside."
Ms. Curran said the pageant has grown to 50 contestants per year."It's just the pageant is very inspiring,to show they are wonderful, they are beautiful, they're going to succeed. People are going to cheer and clap, not going to make fun of them. The cool thing with the documentary, all of my wildest dreams have literally come true.
"I've gotten offers from businesses helping me start my entrepreneurial goals," she said, adding that she plans to start her own business, but declined to discuss specifics. "You kind of grow up with a disability, from the Midwest, and you never assume your biggest, wildest dreams can come true. To me, they have. I'm literally living a surreal life. "
Her uncle is starting the pageant goal of franchising to other states, eventually modeling it after Miss USA, where state winners compete in the national one in Kewanee, which will be on July 27. Next June, there will be a state Miss You Can Do It in Frankfort, Ill., southwest of Chicago.
Entrants must pay a fee of $125 and submit a photo. After the 5:30 p.m. pageant at Kewanee High School's Peterson Auditorium, there will be a 10th anniversary party (open to the public) at the Elks Lodge. Tickets for that are$15 each, with children younger than 5 free.
The party features an open bar, dinner, anniversary cake and live music from the Manny Lopez Quartet. Each pageant contestant will receive one free Rockin' Anniversary Party ticket.
For more information on the pageant, visit missyoucandoit.com. For more information on the HBO film, visit hbo.com/documentaries/miss-you-can-do-it/index.html.