Tag Archives: Ms. Wheelchair USA

SCI Superstar: Starla Hilliard-Barnes


One look at rolling red-haired beauty Starla Hilliard-Barnes, and you probably wouldn’t be too surprised to hear she’s Ms. Wheelchair Montana 2014. But you might be surprised to find out a few other things. An avid dirt biker and the devoted mother to a 2 year old girl, this 26 year old paraplegic isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.

Her journey into paralysis however wasn’t that long ago. Having already run for a national pageant title and won, as well as founded a nonprofit dedicated to help others with disabilities explore the world via outdoor adventures, she’s taken her accident and made something good out of it. We love people just like her.

A fighter, dreamer and epic survivor, this is the beautiful story of the Starla Hilliard-Barnes.

Why she’s fearless

Growing up in a small town in Montana, Starla was your average “girly girl.” She loved gymnastics and in high school she was a cheerleader. She was always physically active. And after high school, she went on to explore modeling, and found success. Yet her whole world changed when she was 21 years old and riding her sport bike through town.

Hit by a truck, she was involved in a hit and run accident, and was thrown from her motorcycle. Starla broke her back in multiple locations, as well as punctured her lungs and injured several other organs. She was fortunate to survive, yet Starla left the scene with a an incomplete T4 injury, and thus began her life with paralysis.

After returning home, she decided to take the positive road, and soon Starla found herself attracting more than your standard inspirational “good for you’s.” She attracted the attention of Shannon Hilliard, a man  destined to become her husband.  One of the more adorable couples we’ve profiled, the two were married quickly and now have a daughter named Elissiah.

But having a family and getting married weren’t the only goals she had for herself post-injury. After winning the Ms. Wheelchair Montana title, she decided to found the Moving Forward Foundation along with her husband and family friend, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with disabilities go one rehabilitative adventures like kayaking and zip-lining.

What’s next?

This past summer her foundation put on their first zip-lining event for people disabilities and it was covered by the local media. Participants were able to zip upwards of 40 miles an hour, making it quite the memorable experience. Watch this video clip featuring an interview with Starla as well as participants from the zip-line event

And more than just providing rehabilitative adventures, Starla is interested in creating accessible school playgrounds in her homestate that allow both parents and children with disabilities to access playground equipment just like everyone else.  From wheelchair-accessible swings to elevated in sandboxes, her dream is to make this a reality.

A woman with a huge heart, Starla Hilliard-Barnes is one of those beautiful people who refuses to let bad people win the day. With her smile and her dedication to others, the work she is doing is helping change the world.

What kind of accessible playground equipment would you like to see?

– Visit her site: Never Stop Rocking

– Like her on Facebook: Starla Hilliard-Barnes (public figure)

Watch the videos!

Ms Wheelchair Montana 2014 in HD

Paralyzed and Pregnant (34 wks)

Montana’s Miss Wheelchair helps disabled people enjoy new outdoor activities

SCI Superstar: Ashlee Lundvall


Ashlee with her daughter Addison.

Growing up with a Dad as a pastor, Ashley Lundvall was raised to be positive, but after a teenage freak accident, her nature was challenged….but only for a short while. Now a motivational speaker, Ms. Wheelchair Wyoming, a wife and mother, this determined woman got over her fears and vowed early on her wheelchair wouldn’t take anything more from her.

Strong women are what we love to profile here at SPINALpedia, and Ashlee Lundvall could very well be the cover girl for them. Whether she’s hunting in the wilderness of Wyoming or taking her daughter out shopping, she is a great example of what can be achieved in spite of a spinal cord injury, and we love her for it.

Why she’s fearless

Ashelee’s story of overcoming her situation begins with her injury, which occurred when she was an athletic 16 year old; a kid who loved basketball. She was at a summer camp and feeding the horses one morning when she reached down to pick up a stray piece of hay. When she did, an entire bale came down and fell on her back, breaking her back at T12 (“Right below the very bottom rib,” she likes to describe), and thus began her journey as a woman with a disability.

In the beginning of her injury, Ashlee was quite depressed and angry over everything she lost and was missing out on. During the first year of her injury, the basketball team she was supposed to be on went to state and won, and she had to watch from the sidelines. Not exactly when she was planning on, but that’s one of the hallmarks of a spinal cord injury.

After her injury, Ashlee met a man who would change her life and bring her back to a place she absolutely loves – Wyoming.  Growing up in Indianapolis, Ashlee wasn’t raised an outdoorsy gal, but before breaking her back she got a taste of life in Wyoming – the hiking, the outdoors, the mountains, the wild animals – and she  wanted to live there badly.

After her injury while loading her wheelchair into her car, a strange man came and offered his help, and this man, Russ, would eventually become her husband, and the person who brought her back to Wyoming; Cody, Wyoming to be exact; Russ’ hometown. Before she knew it, Ashlee was changing her pre-injury life goals into new goals, and it wasn’t as painful as she thought it was going to be. Sure, she wasn’t the basketball player she had always dreamed of, but she was happy.

What’s next?

After moving to Wyoming, Ashelee discovered a new hobby that would eventually come to define her in many ways – adapted hunting. Yes that’s right, she goes out with the rifle and will kill a buck with the best of them, girliness and all. And don’t think she’s not girly. In 2013, Ashelee won the title of Ms. Wheelchair USA – Wyoming, and went on to win the crown of Ms. Wheelchair USA 2013; a title she never expected to have, but was thrilled to have for that year.

Ashlee fell in love with a hunting so much in fact (something she never expected post-injury) that she helped found an adapted hunting foundation called the Wyoming Disabled Hunters Organization in 2008; an organization that helps people with disabilities achieve their dreams of hunting. Pretty cool stuff. Ashlee loves talking about hunting when does motivational speaking as well, another area of life she never thought she’d end up in. In fact, she just gave a speech for TEDx (see below).

And in 2010, Ashlee and her husband Russ had their first daughter Addison, the joy of their lives that keeps them quite busy these days, but they enjoy every second of it. They in fact have figured out how to enjoy life immensely no matter what they’re doing; a skill many people with spinal cord injuries take years to figure out.

Bravo Ashlee for bringing all of the strength that you encompass into our community. We need more people like you.

– Visit Ashlee’s blog: Crown & Camo

Would you try hunting post-injury?

Watch her video!

The new adventure — inspirational innovation: Ashlee Lundvall at TEDx Central Wyoming College

Ms. Wheelchair USA Hails from Wyoming, KTVQ Billings