Maggie Redden, now 28 years old, contracted polio as a child, and by the age of five, she was paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. She went through a series of surgical procedures to fix the leg, hip, and spinal deformities caused by the disease. After attending a preschool program for kids with disabilities, she went to a normal, mainstream school, the Holy Family Academy.
Even as a child, however, she would not be daunted by her ailment; though walking was out of the question, Maggie developed the strength in her arms to race, eventually pursuing a goal of competing in the Paralympics, all while maintaining high marks in her studies.
“Up until high school, sports was for fun,” she said. “In high school, I got serious. I wanted to make the Paralympic team. Academics always came first, though. I wanted to be everything from a meteorologist to an anthropologist.”
By the time she reached college, Maggie chose to study communications at Penn State University while touring the world as an adaptive track star. She chose Penn State because it offered, in her opinion, the best balance of academics and training.
“For the most part, my disability has never impeded anything I wanted to do. I don’t let it define me. I don’t even see myself as having much of a disability. I can’t walk. I use a wheelchair, but other than that I am like a normal individual,” she says.
Normal is not a word one might use to describe someone as extraordinary as Maggie, however. She’s a certified scuba diver, disabled ski instructor, Zumba enthusiast, and is even a practitioner of yoga. Beyond that, she is a certified beauty queen, having been crowned Ms. Wheelchair New Jersey in 2013, and even having competed in the Miss New Jersey pageant in 2007.
“I like to dress up and look glamorous,” said Maggie. “I did Miss New Jersey just for fun. I was the only one in a wheelchair, but I was like, ‘Why not?’ Ms. Wheelchair is specifically not a beauty contest. It’s more about looking for the best person to represent women with disabilities.”
Currently, Maggie is in semi-retirement as a wheelchair racer. She is pursuing her master’s degree in public policy at Saint Peter’s University and working with the Committee on the Status of Women in New York, promoting gender equality through the UN. She also indulges her creative side. She is a singer in the Cantigas Women’s Choir and has penned a collection of personal essays online, based on a trip to India last year to help disabled girls in that country.
“When I’m writing, I take moments in time, freeze them and give the backstory on everything that led up to that moment,” said Maggie. “I call them ‘frozen moments.'”
Traveling to India was an exciting and scary experience. “Boarding the plane in Brussels, everyone was rushing,” she said. “Usually I go on first. They take my wheelchair and put it under the plane. They don’t know any of that routine in India. They would put my chair through baggage.”
Despite the hurdles, she eventually made it to Kolkata, and the experience of seeing the disabled girls she helped in India has changed her life, even getting her to consider an adoption of her own. “Because I have a disability myself, raising a disabled girl might be challenging, but you never know,” Maggie said. “I’m in a relationship now and we’re not at that point yet, but adopting has come up in some conversations.”
Her boyfriend, Abe Waugh, met and befriended Maggie at a wheelchair tennis camp when they were teens. “On our first date we went to New York City,” he says. “I’d never gone to New York just to sightsee before. I’m the quiet type and Maggie is so outgoing. She’s tried a little bit of everything and shown me that anything is achievable.”
As you’ll see in the video, Maggie has been an inspiration to many. How do you inspire people?