A woman who was diagnosed with MS as a teenager has pursued her passion for modelling, now competing in a national beauty pageant.
Zara-Lucy Whitehead, 23, is in the running to become the first ever winner of Miss All African Colours, representing Nigeria – her mother’s home country.
The former singer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis – a lifelong condition that affects the brain and nerves – at the age of 14 when her body became numb while sitting her GCSEs.
Doctors told her she shouldn’t be able to walk but Zara-Lucy refused to let the condition get in the way of achieving her goals.
She defied expectations to start her own business selling organic skincare products and became a full-time model, taking to catwalks across the country.
Zara-Lucy, of St Albans, Hertfordshire, says she applied for the Miss England contest to prove anything was possible if people put their minds to it.
Zara-Lucy will now battle it out against eight other women in a bid to reach the Miss England final at a virtual contest held in London this weekend.
She said: ‘MS is hard and very unpredictable. But I just deal with it as it comes and try not make a fuss out of anything as it is what it is.
‘Pageants are not just about being glammed up and I realised there is so much more to it. My mum can see this has made me a better woman.
‘It’s all about what’s inside, what we’re feeling, where our hearts are and what we can do for our communities.
‘It’s nice because in other pageants BAME women just don’t get the recognition we need.
‘It is such a privilege to be able to stand up for your heritage and my mum’s home country of Nigeria – but also flying the flag representing Africa.’
The model has to take daily medication to help with her condition and unpredictable relapses sometimes leave her needing specialist hospital treatment.
But Zara-Lucy, who cannot feel her fingertips due to the numbness caused by her condition, refuses to let it demotivate her.
She hopes to be able to win the Miss England title and go onto being a contestant in Miss World to help raise awareness for her condition.
‘I do have pain in my legs when I walk and my muscles get tired easily,’ she added. ‘When I have a relapse I go really numb and I can’t walk and can’t feel.
‘When I was diagnosed, the only symptom I had was numbness in my hands but then it started spreading to my legs, back and stomach.
‘One night I tried to get up out of bed and my legs just went and I couldn’t feel my bladder. I tried to get out but just fell to the floor and couldn’t stand up.
‘I now take one pill a day at night but when I do have a relapse it puts me in hospital and I have to stay while they pump me with steroids – but I haven’t had that in a while.
‘I have to take every day as it comes.’
Zara-Lucy has also been raising money to help fund wheelchairs for people in Nigeria with brittle bones, a condition her cousin suffers from.
You can vote for Zara or any of the Miss All African Colours contestants on the Miss England App .
Miss All African Colours is available to watch on a livestream on February 13 at 7pm and tickets can be purchased for £7.99.
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