A northeast Iowa woman is the state’s new spokesperson for people with disabilities. 24-year-old Jackie Heinz of Rowley won the title of “Ms. Wheelchair Iowa” in a weekend competition in Iowa City. Heinz looks forward to traveling the state over the next year to promote her platform — the use of horses as a recreational outlet for Iowans who, like her, are in wheelchairs 24-seven.
Heinz grew up on a farm and has been working with farm animals her whole life, particularly horses. She says there are huge benefits and rewards to working with horses as a recreational therapy. Heinz has a genetic disorder called spinal muscular atrophy and has very limited use of her limbs. That might present difficulties for someone who wants to work with horses, but Heinz says — not her.
She says it presents some challenges but it’s a matter of finding the right horses and being creative, building ramps and making accessibility easier. Heinz was the first person in a wheelchair to complete the dance program at the University of Northern Iowa. She now helps run a dance studio in Cedar Falls with duties that include teaching classes from ballet to ballroom.
Heinz says “I’m not a person that likes to get weighed down, feeling sorry for myself or getting frustrated with my disability. I don’t consider myself different than the normal. Everybody has their own disability. It’s just a matter of overcoming that and being proud of it and forging ahead with your plans and ideas.” As Miss Wheelchair Iowa, she will represent the Hawkeye State at the national competition in July in Little Rock, Arkansas. Heinz replaces the previous Ms. Wheelchair Iowa — Shonnae Lundy of Des Moines.