Bedford pageant winner delivers anti-bullying message

Competition can serve as a true test of character: revealing the best, and sometimes the worst, attributes in people. Recent Miss New Hampshire Collegiate pageant winner, Holly Franz, 18, however, proves that competition can be a chance to show one’s outer and inner beauty.

On July 22, Franz, a graduate of Bedford High School class of 2012 was crowned first in the Miss New Hampshire Collegiate beauty pageant.

“I never considered myself a pageant girl,” Franz said. “This was my first pageant. I got interested after attending last year’s pageant with a friend, Kaeyla Layton, who took the title last year, and I had gone to support her.”

Franz leans toward her mother, who in return holds out Franz’s cup of iced coffee. Franz takes a sip.

“But I didn’t think I could ever participate because I didn’t think the pageants were wheelchair accessible,” Franz said.

Four years ago, Franz was restricted to a wheelchair after worsening symptoms of a rare neurological disorder called Friedreich’s Ataxia. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, one in every 50,000 people in the United States are affected by FA.

“Holly was very active when she was young. She played tennis, swimming, gymnastics, soccer and horseback riding,” Hannelore Federspill, Franz’s mother, said. “Around age 9, we noticed she started tripping over her feet, and suddenly, she was falling behind her other teammates.”

“I would pretend to be too sick to go to practice because I knew something was different. At first, I just thought it was because I wasn’t good enough,” Franz said.

In the following years, Franz was diagnosed with FA. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, FA is a rare inherited disease that causes nervous system damage and movement problems. It usually begins in childhood and leads to impaired muscle coordination that worsens over time.

“As a mother, to see her do well in sports and then not do as well is heartbreaking,” Federspill said. “But on the other hand, she’s so high-spirited and doesn’t let the disease bring her down.”

“After I learned from my friend that I could participate in the pageant, I decided to try it.” Franz said. “I went in with the attitude that it was my first year, and it didn’t really matter win or loose.”

Franz also said that when she learned the overall theme of the pageant, anti-bullying, she was especially drawn to the competition.

“Bullying can take multiple forms,” Franz said. “In eighth grade, I didn’t think I needed a wheelchair, but I thought when I became a freshman I would make the switch. A lot of people were confused and thought I had a bad injury, but for my first two years at the school, I felt a little left behind. I needed help and I wasn’t asked often by my friends if I wanted to hang out.”

“Some of her friends deserted her,” Federspill said. “It’s important to know that ignorance and ignoring someone is also a form of bullying.”

Participants in the Miss New Hampshire beauty pageant went through four stages of competition: the opening number, fashion wear, evening gown and the interview (worth 60 percent of the overall score).

“For the opening number, Kassie Dubois helped me with my gait,” Franz said. “She helped me practice my entrance so my dress wouldn’t get caught in my spokes.”

But Franz’s most successful stage of competition was the interview.

“The anti-bullying message of the pageant was something that meant a lot to me because I had been bullied,” Franz said. “I also talked about how I started my own organization called Holly’s Hope, which 100 percent of the profits go towards Friedreich’s Ataxia research for a cure.”

Founded her freshman year at BHS, Holly’s Hope makes homemade jewelry and provides additional information about FA research. According to the website, Holly’s Challenge has raised $20,000 in two years for the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Association. For more information about Holly’s Hope visit http://hollyshope.weebly.com/index.html.

Franz also said that a big part of her interview focused on her volunteer work with the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge, a free race open to all ages and abilities throughout New England.

“I like volunteering with the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge because I feel like I’m working,” Franz said. “My job is to greet the kids and to encourage them to take a ride down the mountain. Next year, I’ll be working instead of volunteering with them, so I’m excited to be able to have a job. Other jobs, like waitressing, I can’t do because of my disorder.”

According to Franz, one of the few sporting activities she can still participate in is adaptive skiing.

“I love going down the mountain and feeling like I can be apart of the challenge,” Franz said.

Franz was active with the Leadership Club at BHS and will attend Southern New Hampshire University in the fall.

“I’ve already met my roommate online through Facebook,” Franz said. “At first is was hard being honest about my disorder, but I’m meeting people who are willing to help me.”

“I don’t look at what I can’t do. I look at the other people who have the disorder worse than me and I feel bad for them,” Franz said.

Katelyn Dobbs can be reached at 594-6549 or kdobbs@nashuatelegraph.com.