STARLA HILLIARD BARNES
Posted: Friday, March 4, 2016 6:12 pm
A Kalispell woman who was paralyzed in a 2009 hit-and-run accident and then was injured again in another crash last year will be the first-ever wheelchair contestant in the upcoming Mrs. Montana pageant.
Starla Hilliard Barnes has been breaking down barriers for people with disabilities ever since she was first injured. Two years ago she was named Ms. Wheelchair Montana.
Since she was paralyzed from the waist down seven years ago, Barnes has worked to regain her independence. She got married, gave birth to a daughter and has become an advocate for overcoming adversity.
“As a nation we need to come together to break down invisible barriers and become a nation of inclusion,” Barnes said, emphasizing the crux of her platform for the Mrs. Montana pageant. “Every single individual should have the opportunity to feel beautiful, strong and confident.”
Barnes, 28, will compete with married women across the state in a variety of categories, including talent and evening gown wear, for the Mrs. Montana title. The pageant will be June 11 in Missoula.
She hasn’t decided yet what her talent presentation will be.
When Barnes learned about the state pageant that chooses a contestant for the Mrs. America pageant, she contacted pageant officials and asked if a woman in a wheelchair could participate.
“I think it would be great to have all walks of life represented,” she said.
Barnes got a green light and was advised to apply for the Mrs. Flathead County title, which she then secured. She and her husband are thankful for the support they have received from many local businesses and individuals who have stepped up to sponsor her participation in the pageant.
Wheelchair or not, Barnes has been a go-getter her entire life.
She was a gymnast and competed in cheerleading competitions during high school. She graduated early from Flathead High School and by her early 20s already had established herself as a professional model and successful businesswoman. She began modeling as a young child and modeled in the Seattle area before returning to Kalispell.
Barnes was riding a sport bike through a downtown Kalispell intersection on June 23, 2009, when a white Chevrolet Silverado ran a red light, struck her and then sped away without stopping to see how badly injured she was.
The hit-and-run driver never was found.