At the Pridefest at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanic Garden, are Andrea Dalzell, Ms. Wheelchair New York. and standing from left, Jamie Lynn Macchia, Miss New York and Katelynn Smith, Miss Central New York. Photo Courtesy of the Staten Island Advance.

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE — Maya Angelou put it best: “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

Meet Andrea Dalzell, who lives by those words each and every day of her life.

The 27-year-old College of Staten Island student holds the title of Ms. Wheelchair New York 2015 and will be among 27 women from across the nation to vie for the Ms. America Wheelchair title slated for later this month in Des Moines, Iowa. The winner will represent more than 50 million Americans with disabilities.

The new winner will be crowned by Samantha Schroth of Wisconsin, Ms. Wheelchair America 2015.

So, as Staten Islanders root for Eltingville’s Jamie Lynn Macchia, who holds the title of Miss New York and is on the road that leads to to Miss America, we retrace the journey of another inspiring young women.

Andrea garnered her state title last September at a pageant held in the Albany Marriott Hotel.

Unlike most competitions, Ms. Wheelchair doesn’t judge or base its winners on outward appearance. And while the women still dress up for the formal interviews and speeches, the pageant is an advocacy program in which the winner is chosen on who can be the best advocate for those with any type of disability challenge.

The only requirement to enter: Contestants must be dependent on the use of a wheel chair every day of her life — but that doesn’t mean Andrea didn’t include the “art of sky diving” as part of her resume.

At the age of 6, Andrea was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis (TM) and used a wheelchair since the age 12.

Born under the zodiac sign of a Taurus, this strong woman was determined not to let a disability curtail her life. She drives four times a week from her home in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn to the College of Staten Island.

“Andrea is a dynamic member of the CSI community; she is always pushing fellow students, faculty and staff to do their best,” said Jeremiah Jurkiewicz of Stapleton, coordinator, LGBTQ Resources Center, Office of Student Life on the Willowbrook campus. “You always see her racing around the campus in her chair. She is constantly speaking up on behalf of students needs and refuses to let herself be ignored.”

Andrea’s advocacy includes meeting with Assemblyman Matt Titone (D-North Shore) to promote the universal and affordable housing law for the disabled and all.

Also, she attended the PrideFest celebration at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden on July 11 and the next day she participated at the First annual Disability Pride Parade & Festival at Union Square Park, Manhattan.

What’s more, she continues to travel the city promoting her pageant platform: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of access.”

Andrea leaves Sunday, July 26, and will be in Iowa till August 2 for Ms. America Wheelchair.

Angela Wrigglesworth, the Texas State coordinator sums up the pageant: “Real beauty is not measured by the number of heads you turn but by the number of hearts you touch.”

Jim Smith, executive director of the Miss Staten Island Pageant, adds, “Andrea has touched many hearts of Staten Islanders with her courage and determination. She will do Staten Island proud.”

This article by Carol Ann Benanti first appeared in the Staten Island Advance and on July 20, 2015. It is reprinted here with permission.