By Sarah Beth Costello
July 29, 2009
Doctors told her it would be impossible to dance again, but Elon alumna Katherine
Southard (’07) didn’t let that stop her. As the winner of the Miss North Carolina Pageant this year, Southard not only has the opportunity to perfect her dancing skills, but also plans to help others who are facing the same challenges she once did.
Since early childhood, Southard has battled scoliosis, a medical condition that causes curvature of the spine. Instead of a straight back, her spine curved to the side, deforming part of her body and making dance extremely difficult.
Southard was only two years old when her mother enrolled her in dance lessons, but it did not take long for her parents, teachers and fellow classmates to realize she lacked the ability to perform like the others.
“(Dancing) was frustrating because I didn’t look like the other girls,” Southard said. “My back curved and my ribs stuck out. And they all tried to get on me for (dancing) improperly, but I wasn’t. We finally realized I physically couldn’t dance correctly because of my spine.”
Despite the pain and difficulty, Southard continued to dance throughout school and eventually majored in dance at Elon. In 2005, Southard underwent surgery to correct the curve in her spine with potentially devastating results to her dance career.
Persevering Through Difficulty
“I think it’s important not to give up,” Southard said. “It’s hard to realize in the moment, but having gone through this I feel like I’m a much stronger person than I was before.”
Refusing to toss out her ballet shoes, Southard continued to dance after the surgery. Dancing was still painful and more difficult than before, but her passion for the arts proved to be stronger.
“For someone who said I wouldn’t be able to (dance) anymore after surgery, the fact that I overcame it gives more confidence and encourages me to overcome obstacles,” Southard said.
Before her corrective surgery, Southard participated in the 2005 Miss North Carolina pageant.
“When I (competed) in 2005, it was before I ever had the surgery and after that I thought ‘I’m done’ because I have to have this surgery,” Southard said. “And I had it, and really pageants are just a way I can get back into dance and try to be better.”
Southard competed in 2008 as Miss Mount Holly and did better than she had in the 2005 competition. After placing second runner-up, she decided to continue training and preparing for the 2009 pageant as Miss Raleigh. After three years of participation, she was finally crowned Miss North Carolina.
“I think it’s one of those things where you’re in the moment and you don’t even think,” Southard said. “I remember looking at my family. My sister was jumping up and down and my dad had a blank, shocked look on his face.”
Looking Towards the Future
Southard’s responsibilities range from fundraisers and pancake breakfasts to working with the United Service Organization in support of troops and addressing the North Carolina House and Senate on the issues of scoliosis.
“(I’m working on) getting information packets to children so parents can learn how to screen their child for scoliosis themselves,” Southard said. “It’s unbelievable how many people have contacted me. I had 180 friend requests on Facebook, many from girls who didn’t know that (scoliosis) is an issue.”
Southard plans to travel to Las Vegas in January for the Miss America competition. She said she looks forward to the different atmosphere and the possibility of being crowned Miss America despite the handicaps and challenges she has faced.
“You need to embrace adversity instead of running from it,” Southard said. “Embrace the good things or the bad things that come along.”