FAIRMONT - Pageants have a variety of focuses. Some are appearance-based. Some spotlight talent. Miss Minnesota International is charity- and volunteered-based, according to its reigning titleholder, Gabby Taylor of Stillwater.
The 20-year-old Taylor holds the title of Miss Minnesota International 2014 and also is the youth spokesperson for the National Center for Sports Safety in Birmingham, Ala. She is utilizing her public persona to promote safety and the prevention of sports injuries - a topic she knows first-hand. Her appearance Saturday night in Fairmont with Home Free was sponsored by Fairmont Raceway.
When she was 15, Taylor was captain of a national championship cheerleading team. During practice, a routine the squad had "done a million times" resulted in a severe nerve injury when an airborne teammate landed on Taylor's right shoulder. Possessing a "warrior culture" like other athletes, Taylor continued to practice the routine several more times, each time experiencing more and more trauma to her shoulder.
"Eventually, I was paralyzed," she said.
"It was very serious. It was life-changing. My whole world just crumbled."
She was hospitalized for several days and then began daily therapy, "about any kind you could imagine," she said.
She started taking classes online because attending school interfered with therapy. Her grade point average dropped from a 4.2 to 3.4 as she struggled with what she calls "the ripple effect" of her injury.
Taylor has regained some use of her arm, but her therapy continues.
"It's all baby steps," she said.
About a year after Taylor's accident, Jack Jablonski, a young Minnesota hockey player, was hit from behind during a game and was paralyzed. Taylor visited him in the hospital, gifting him with some comfort items.
"I could only feel a sliver of the pain that he had," she said of the emotional meeting with the quadriplegic young man.
Taylor currently is working with former Viking center Matt Birk to bring attention to the danger of concussions in athletes. Birk, who suffered concussions during his pro football days, is donating his brain to Boston University's School of Medicine after his death, so it can be used for scientific research into the chemical imbalance concussions cause in the brain, Taylor said.
She strongly believes in sports safety and the Miss Minnesota program.
"I was Miss Teen Minnesota International in 2012," she said. "That shows my dedication."
Taylor will compete for the title of Miss International at the end of July in Florida, and she will continue to spread the word about sports safety.