Deaf Mom With One Arm Is No Ordinary Beauty Contestant

Elizabeth Galvan and her daughter Brianna Thompson (Photo: AP Photo/The Forum, Carrie Snyder)Elizabeth Galvan is deaf and is missing one arm but that hasn’t stopped her from living her life to the fullest.

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According to a story published this week on Inforum, Galvan, 34, of Fargo, North Dakota, lost her arm in an accident when she was 3 years old. She later lost her hearing after contracting an unrelated illness. Yet, Galvan regularly drives to her job at Walmart, where she works in the stockroom. And this week, she and her 11-year-old daughter Brianna Thompson (who can hear) are headed to St. Louis, Missouri, to compete in the Dream Girls USA national beauty pageant from Wednesday to Sunday.

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"There are so many things I can do. I don't say, 'Oh, I can't,'" Galvan told Inforum via an American Sign Language interpreter. When she was 17 years old, she wanted to be a lifeguard but was discouraged from doing so. Galvan didn't let that stop her. "The teacher was really shocked that I successfully passed all the tests, and I became a lifeguard," said Galvan.

For Galvan, who could not be reached for comment, the beauty pageant is an opportunity to educate and inspire. "My heart and passion have always been set on teaching people that differences open your mind to possibilities and not to judge people, like someone who has one leg, Down syndrome, any difference,” she said. "Don't look at it as a disability. We're not 'disabled.' The same goes for me — I don't consider myself handicapped. I'm a normal person. I'm the same as everyone else," she said.

But for much of her life, people didn’t see it that way. While growing up in Devil’s Lake and Fargo, Galvan experienced her share of bullying. That all changed when she was a teenager and met another girl with one arm. The girl’s parents asked if Galvan would like to speak at their daughter’s school because the girl was feeling lonely and isolated. Galvan’s presentation left her new friend’s parents in tears and it was then that Galvan realized how much she could make a difference in other people’s lives. "That's why my goal in this pageant is to open minds and teach that 'beauty' is not a perfect body or perfect skin — no. It's about your personality," she said. Dream Girls USA contestants are judged by their individuality, interviews, and their attire.

Galvan was inspired to enter when 23-year-old Nicole Kelly, who was born without her left forearm, was recently crowned Miss Iowa. In September, Kelly will run for Miss America. Kelly could not be reached for comment. "She's a wonderful role model for me," said Galvan.

Thompson didn’t think she’d get far in the competition, but she won in the preteen division. "She's not a 'pageant girl,' but she shocked herself when she won. The mother-daughter team is close—not only do they regularly shop and get manicures together, Galvan taught her daughter how to use sign language when Thompson was only an infant. "I'd point at something, for example, a crown, finger-spell 'C-R-O-W-N,' and then I'd teach her the sign 'crown.’" Said Thompson, “That’s kind of our bonding time.”

They even have a special language. "We twist our index finger and middle finger to sign 'I really love you' instead of 'I love you,’” said Thompson.

Galvan’s biggest dream: To be seen as an equal and to pave the way for others viewed as disabled or different.

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