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Pageant sisters: Campaigning against the 'R' word

Sisters Maggie and Amanda Wothe both currently hold pageant titles. Maggie is Miss Teen Detroit Lakes International and Amanda is Miss Pageant Gal of Hope. Maggie said her titles give her a voice to help inform people about the Special Olympics and her sister's Down Syndrome. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham1 / 3
Maggie Wothe speaks in front of the Detroit Lakes High School student body about not saying the "R" word. Wothe has used her title as Miss Detroit Lakes Teen International to speak about her sister, Amanda's, Down Syndrome and the Special Olympics. SUBMITTED PHOTO2 / 3
Amanda Wothe, right, smiles as her sister, Maggie, talks about ways she is helping inform people about the Special Olympics and removing the stigma of Down Syndrome. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham3 / 3

Two Frazee sisters are proving that while beauty is only skin deep, its effects can go all the way to the heart. The Wothe women have “a thing” for beauty pageants. Mom Tammy Wothe started the whole thing. “I was Mrs. Becker County International 2003,” she said, as her daughters, 25-year-old Amanda and 18-year-old Maggie, donned their own crowns and sashes. None of them are only one-time winners, particularly Maggie, who has held seven beauty queen-related titles. “I am currently your Miss Teen Detroit Lakes International,” she said, sporting the new banner she was presented this week by Mayor Matt Brenk. The Wothe women are well aware that some throughout the community are critical of their pageantry. “Unfortunately, I know we’ve been the target of gossip because of this,” said Tammy, sitting across from her daughters. Here’s the thing, though — they couldn’t care less. “Our goal is much bigger than all that,” said Maggie, looking over at her sister, Amanda, who has Down Syndrome.

The ‘R’ word

Maggie remembers the day when her older sister realized what the word “retarded” meant after reading it in a book. “She said, ‘I’m dumb, I’m stupid,’ said Maggie, adding that it took several months of positive reinforcement to get her sister over that. “…To realize that she was an intelligent human being,” said Maggie, who along with her mother, had already begun working with the Special Olympics program out of Perham — a program Amanda was very active in. The mother and daughter team had taken up Special Olympics issues as their platforms while participating in local beauty pageants. But as Maggie got into junior high, she realized just how often the word “retarded” was flying around among her peers. And while she realized people weren’t intentionally being hurtful, she also lived with proof that it was. So, Maggie tweaked her platform to “The ‘R’ word hurts, disable the label.” “She (Amanda) has been my inspiration to go out and educate, motivate and activate people on my platform because a lot of people don’t know that word is de-humanizing and hurtful to not only those with intellectual disabilities but also to those without,” said Maggie, who used her crown as 2012 Miss Teen Becker County International to amplify her message. “You use the crown as your microphone to speak on something that’s really close to your heart,” said Maggie, who takes her different crowns and titles to every business, organization and school that will let her speak on the subject. She will sometimes bring a banner with for people to sign as a pledge that they will not use the “R” word. Maggie, who just spoke to her own student body at the Detroit Lakes High School on Wednesday, says she gets a mixture of positive and negative feedback. “There was a young guy who came up to me and said, ‘You’re not going to change the world you know, there’s no point in doing this,’ and I said, ‘I’m not trying to change the world, I’m just trying to change you — it’s one person at a time,” said Maggie. And while the Wothe women know that some view the pageant world in a negative light, they say it has given them both strength and a platform to get people’s attention. “It gave me a voice — It isn’t about getting attention for yourself, but for what you’re promoting,” said Maggie, who began looking for pageants for her sister a couple of years ago. She found one — the Miss You Can Do It pageant in Illinois. “So we began practicing on her smile and walking and interviewing,” said Maggie, who joined her mother in helping Amanda train for the pageant. Although she didn’t win the big title, she did make the princess court, earning her a crown. Now, as Maggie gets ready for the Miss Teen Minnesota International pageant in St. Cloud next month, an excited Amanda is both holding the crown for the Miss Hope pageant while practicing for Miss Amazing Minnesota in Friday on February 15.     For it, she will be tapping into her gymnastics talents which have won her several Special Olympics medals. “I’ve been practicing a lot,” she laughed, “…right in the kitchen!” Regardless of crowns, medals or microphones and tossing aside negative gossip or accolades, the Wothe girls say they wouldn’t change a thing. “It’s been such a bonding experience for us,” said Tammy, who loves the fact that she’s gotten to travel all over with her two girls. “We’ve seen such great things and met such fascinating people,” said Wothe, “We’ve spent a lot of time together talking and visiting —we’ve really connected over this.” The Wothes say crown or no crown, they’ll continue to fight for the Special Olympics program they’ve come to love and the word they’ve come to despise. “I am not the ‘R’ word,” said Amanda. “I can do anything I want.”

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes, Perham and Wadena, all in Minnesota.

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