PANAMA CITY, FLa. (WJHG) - Fifteen-year-old Rachel Dean loves her school, Margaret K. Lewis.
Rachel and her friends at Margaret K. Lewis School. (WJHG)
"We eat lunch and breakfast and then we play outside," said Rachel.
She takes her studies quite seriously and also encourages her classmates. But she also has a playful side, and despite having down syndrome she doesn't know the meaning of the word shy.
"Rachel just likes to put on pretty clothes and parade around in front of everybody and she likes to twirl, she loves to dance," said her mom, Susan Dean.
Susan found out about a state pageant for young ladies with special needs in Winter Park.
"I saw the Miss Amazing Pageant and I said, 'That's Rachel!' She's amazing," said Susan.
She thought it would be a great learning experience for her little angel.
"They teach them to do interviews and stand in front of a crowd," said Susan, "do their talent preparation."
The competition is broken into seven age divisions from five years old on up.
Susan says while mom was a nervous wreck, Rachel was having the time of her life.
"I just assumed she was gonna have jittery nerves and butterflies in her tummy but she had none of that," said Susan.
She had three interview sessions.
"Whenever she got ready for her interview she was real tall and poised and acted like a young lady," said Susan.
"They asked how I was doing," said Rachel. "And I was good and all. I got four pets and I got pizza and other stuff."
Rachel was cool as a cucumber. When it came time to put on her competition gown...
"She's walking around like she's a queen," said Susan.
Apparently, the judges agreed. Rachel was crowned Junior Teen Miss Amazing for the state of Florida.
But that's not the end of it. She will represent the state in Chicago at the National Miss Amazing Pageant in August.
"It's going to be intense," said Susan. "It's gonna be three days. They're going to have a gala, a formal gala, where the girls get out and dance. And they will have a real formal meal. They're gonna have a pajama party so they can get to know each other. Moms are not welcome to the pajama party."
The young ladies are required to participate in three skills. Interview, evening wear, and talent showcase. Rachel has already decided on her talent.
"Rachel is going to do something Minnie Mouse with Hey Mickey you're so fine in the background and talking about her trip," said Susan. "They have to tell something they're passionate about."
If there's something Rachel is passionate about it's Disney world.
"A lot of things we do at Disney are educational and she learns a lot from them," said Susan.
Walking around Disney isn't easy for Rachel. She's been a Shriners' kid since birth.
"She's my little hero. She has been through so much and every time she has a surgery or has to go to the doctor she amazes me, just amazes me," said Susan.
Still, Rachel doesn't see herself as different from anyone else.
"She has a wheelchair that she uses when we go to Disney world. People stare at her and she waves at them like a princess. She thinks they're looking at her because she's a princess," Susan explained.
Rachel isn't the Deans' only special needs child.
"I have my other two daughters that I adopted. Alisha is almost 20 and Elizabeth is almost 19," said Susan.
Susan says her girls don't let anything hold them back and that's especially true for Rachel.
"There's nothing that she can't do in her mind," said Susan. "I don't chase away any of her dreams. If she has a dream I tell her to go for it."
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