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A Mother’s Love

Advocacy, Pageantry, and Beauty Beyond Stereotypes

Article by Amanda Knowland

Photography by Thomas Hall/Eagle Aerial Solutions

Originally published in Topeka City Lifestyle

In a world where pageant queens are often confined to stereotypes, Mrs. Kansas United World Kayla Schadegg shatters expectations with her petite frame, pixie haircut, and athletic build. Her journey is not just about pageantry and glamour; it’s a testament to a mother’s love, resilience, and a commitment to making a positive impact.

Kayla and her daughter, Kerrie, are not unlike one another when it comes to shattering stereotypes. After what Kayla calls a “remarkably boring” first pregnancy and delivery, she and her husband Kelly learned their new baby could have a potential medical condition.

“When the doctor finally returned with our baby, he pushed her to the foot of my bed, out of reach, stood in the doorway, and told us very clinically and bluntly that he believed our new baby had Down syndrome,” she remembers. “He rattled off facts and risk factors, and when we were too stunned to even ask questions, he told us that the hospital social worker would reach out to us to help make sure our quality of life suffered as little as possible.”

Eventually, the Schadeggs realized their traumatic experience didn’t adhere to best practices preached by major medical and advocacy organizations. A seed was planted inside Kayla.

“It clicked for me that I wanted to be a part of the movement to improve the diagnosis experience for families receiving this unexpected news,” she explains.

Kayla’s pageant journey began when Kerrie was three years old. At the age of 27, Kayla stepped onto the stage for the first time, motivated by a desire to authentically represent her personality and passions, including advocating for a cause that had become deeply personal.

“I know for a fact that a crown and sash will help me get my foot in the door in places that might not otherwise ever answer my email or take my call,” she says.

Over the course of a year, Kayla traveled more than 10,000 miles across the United States, representing Kansas on the international stage. Placing First Runner-Up further solidified the impact of her advocacy work. Her initiative, Strong Over Wrong, is based on the idea that we should look for what makes people strong, rather than focusing on what’s “wrong.” That is the message she imparts on medical professionals she works with now.

“The striking bit is that it’s 2024 and families are still being given a disability diagnosis as if it’s a death sentence,” she says, adding that the life expectancy for someone with Down syndrome is nearly 60 years old and continues to climb as access to preventative and life-saving health care increases and stigma decreases.

Embracing the love for the pageantry world, Kayla is set to return in 2024, now holding the title of Mrs. North America United World. Kerrie is now a spirited young girl, described by her mom as funny, sassy, and focused. She looks and behaves like her mom, and is extremely proud of her tap dance lessons.

Kerrie and her little brother love to tag along to events and appearances. But the entire operation wouldn’t stay afloat without the support of Kelly.

“I couldn’t be wife, mom, professional, and pageant queen if I didn’t have him backing me up at home,” Kayla gushes. “He is endlessly supportive and sees the value pageantry brings to my life personally, but also what I’m able to do for our community.”

Looking to the future, Kayla envisions combining her small business management experience with her skills as a children’s fitness expert and disability advocate. The dream is to open a fully inclusive and accessible facility for children with various physical and intellectual disabilities, along with sensory needs.

Kayla’s story challenges preconceived notions of beauty queens and emphasizes that advocacy and impact transcend stereotypes. For those wanting to follow her adventures, learn about Down syndrome, or receive advocacy pointers, Kayla invites everyone to visit her Facebook and Instagram pages @strongoverwrong.

Kerrie is now a spirited young girl: funny, sassy, and focused.

"I wanted to be a part of the movement."

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