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'Special needs means special abilities': Georgia teen embraces intellectual disability to compete in pageant

Kelsey Norris has been defying the odds and much more. Now, she's taking her advocacy to the big stage.

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Kelsey Norris has walked, run, and swam to raise awareness for people with autism and intellectual disability.

"I like helping people," Norris said.

Norris, 18, is an advisory board member for the nonprofit HALO Group.

HALO Group provides vocational and life skills training for young adults with intellectual disabilities.

They help people with intellectual disabilities transition into independent life. 

For the past three years, Kelsey has been running, jogging, and swimming as part of the HALO Group fundraiser.

For every mile, $1 was donated to the HALO Group.

Norris has raised almost $3,000, and there's a reason for that.

"'I have special needs' means 'special abilities,'" Norris said.

Norris was found in an Russian orphanage when she was 11 months old. She was diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, autism, and Rubenstein-Taybi Syndrome (RTS) when she was younger.

RTS is a genetic disorder that causes growth delays, body abnormalities, and speech delays, according to the National Organization of Rare Disorders. 

However, Norris doesn't let her disorder stop her from being active.

Norris has competed in the Special Olympics and won four gold medals.

She said her favorite sport is bowling, but has been swimming for almost 10 years.

"My favorite stroke is the freestyle," Norris said.

Norris has also written five books and has written several grant proposals totaling over $25,000. 

Her mom, Carol Norris, said one of her books, Kelsey Goes to the Olympics, will hopefully be sent to the 180 public schools in Georgia.

Norris wants to see more self-advocacy for individuals with disabilities. She believes that people with disabilities can achieve great thing life and have an positive impact on others.

Now, she's ready to make an impact on an even bigger stage.

"I'm going to Miss Georgia," Norris said.

Norris will be competing in the 2022 Miss Georgia pageant in Columbus, Georgia.

Her mother Carol said Kelsey will be the first woman with an intellectual disability to compete in the 77-year history of the pageant.

Norris started to competing in pageants when she was 10 years old.

She is currently Miss Conyers Cherry Blossom.

"I like walking on stage and crowning," Norris said.

However, Norris has just one mission in mind for helping people.

"I like to see them grow," Norris said.

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