LONG BEACH - Margarita Elizondo is paralyzed, but says she embraces the limits of her life.
On Sunday, the 37-year-old San Diego woman was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California 2013 during a ceremony at the The Hilton Long Beach.
Adjusting to her limits and paralysis were the biggest obstacles to overcome, she said.
"The hardest thing to overcome was the loss of dignity and independence," said Elizondo, who was shot in the neck and paralyzed in a June 2006 shooting. "My personal life was completely exposed. I had to rely on people for my most basic needs."
But once she embraced her new "adaptive lifestyle," Elizondo says she lived life to the fullest without limits: She leads two ministries, is public director at a health care company and founded a nonprofit.
"A wheelchair lifestyle is so much fun," Elizondo said. "I enjoy wheelchair dancing, surfing and sailing."
Organizers stress that the Ms. Wheelchair California pageant is not about beauty, but advocacy for people with disabilities, said Jennifer Kumiyama, state coordinator with the Ms. Wheelchair California Foundation, which sponsors the pageant.
Elizondo will wear the crown for a year and is required to be a spokeswoman, making public appearances advocating for people with disabilities. In her two-minute platform speech, she said she would recommend that the families of someone with a newly acquired injury get involved in mentor and support groups.
"They've made me who I am today," Elizondo said.
Three contestants competed in this year's pageant. Christa Saul of Anaheim Hills was the first runner-up. Crystal Allsopp of Torrance was the third contestant.
Elizondo received her crown from Long Beach resident Mary Zendejas, Ms. Wheelchair California 2012.
Zendejas placed third last year at the Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant in Providence, R.I.
"This was a highlight of life, to represent women and Latinas," she said.
Lourdes Mack, 10, of Santa Monica was crowned Little Miss Wheelchair California 2013. She received her honors from last year's winner, Long Beach resident Katie Hull.
In her acceptance speech Mack said, "I want to show boys and girls they can still achieve their dreams, even if they are in a wheelchair."
In July, Elizondo will compete in Houston at the Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant.
Contestants for Ms. Wheelchair California are required to file an application, use a wheelchair 100 percent of the time, be 21-60 years old and pay a $300 entry fee, Kumiyama said.
For more information, visit www.mswheelchaircaliforniafoundation.