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One local resident hopes to capture pageant national crown
Melissa Middleton
Melissa Middleton poses for a portrait outside Cumming First United Methodist Church on June 6, 2018. Middleton won the 2018 Georgia Miss Amazing pageant and will head to Chicago from Aug. 3-6 for the 2018 National Miss Amazing event. - photo by Brian Paglia

Melissa Middleton keeps the crown she won at this past April’s Georgia Miss Amazing pageant on a table in the living room of her home. 
“So all my friends can see it,” Middleton said.
But the 31-year-old Forsyth County resident could add another crown to her collection soon when she competes in the 2018 National Miss Amazing event, a pageant for girls and women with disabilities in its sixth year that will be held in Chicago from Aug. 3-6. 
Over the event’s four days, Middleton will go up against nearly 150 competitors in the traditional pageant format. She’ll perform a talent, undergo an interview and done her gown, sash and crown for a beauty walk. 
Middleton’s win this past April was the first since she began participating in pageants in 2013. She was ecstatic by the result, but Middleton can already feel a heightened sense of anticipation as the event draws near. 
“I’ll probably be more excited,” Middleton said.
But Middleton isn’t a stranger to an event of this magnitude. In 2011, she qualified for the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico in table tennis. That was a milestone trip; Middleton and her mother, Angela, had never traveled by airplane until they went to Colorado Springs, Colorado for a week of training at the United States’ Olympic Training Center. Then they flew to Mexico, where Middleton won a bronze medal. 
Pageants have since replaced table tennis as Middleton’s passion, and the allure, at least in part, is simple. 
“I get to wear a pretty dress,” Middleton said.
But Middleton is also committed. Shortly after her Olympic experience, Middleton took up piano, which is her talent at pageants. She plays “Alouette,” the classic French children’s tune, and the familiar lullaby “Are You Sleeping?” Every other Wednesday she takes one-hour lessons from Tricia Wester, but everyday she finds time to practice on her keyboard at home. Middleton’s mother will ask her random questions to prepare for the interview portion of the pageant, and Middleton makes time to perform the walk she must do in front of judges, being particularly cognizant of her wave. Every night before bed, Middleton does her entire routine. Sometimes she does it in the morning too.
Guiding her through much of this are volunteers, like Van LeBlanc, with Gentle Souls, a program for those with disabilities and special needs ages 16 and up at Cumming First United Methodist Church. Middleton was among the first participants when the ministry began almost six years ago. They are helping to raise funds for Middleton’s travel and lodging expenses for the National Miss Amazing event, which are expected to be around $2,500.
Much about the event excites Middleton. It will be a chance to meet new people, and it will be her first time visiting Chicago, where her mother grew up. 
And when Middleton is introduced before the National Miss Amazing audience, they will say she is from Cumming, Georgia.
“She’s pretty proud of that,” LeBlanc said.
“It feels like I’m a queen,” Middleton said.