Rachel Barcellona, a Tampa Bay resident, will be the first woman with autism to compete for the Miss Florida title.
Barcellona has been competing in pageants since she was five years old and credits them with building her confidence, according to an article from News Channel 8.
“I had depression and anxiety in middle school so then I resumed when I was thirteen and that is when I really got into it because it helped me make friends and build my confidence,” Barcellona said.
She views her disability as a strength that will inspire people to overcome their own personal challenges.
“Usually they bring up my disability. So I would say it doesn’t affect me negatively and I am very capable of inspiring people and holding a title. I would say that pageantry is also spectrum. You have to find the right ones for you. And just go from there because it can really really make a girl more confident and empower her to be an amazing woman," Barcellona said.
Barcellona’s mother has served as a strong support system and role model throughout her career in pageantry emphasizing that Barcellona will not let negative feedback stop her.
“She [Barcellona’s mother] was like I will be dead before that happens. So, I wouldn’t be anywhere without my mom who is a nurse practitioner and she is just wonderful, I love her,”
Barcellona will compete in The Miss Florida pageant on June 25 in Lakeland. If she wins, she will compete in The Miss America pageant next year.