This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans is a battler and fearless in taking on foes in the political arena.

But he may regret the fight he had over voting access at the GOP's state convention last spring because his adversary has suddenly become one of the nation's strongest voices for the rights of the disabled.

Eliza McIntosh, the reigning Ms. Wheelchair Utah, was named Ms. Wheelchair America at the organization's pageant Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The 22-year-old University of Utah student beat out contestants from 25 other states to win the crown and will spend the next year traveling the country, speaking and advocating for the more than 54 million Americans living with disabilities.

McIntosh was born with spinal dysgenesis, which left her paralyzed from the waist down. "I was supposed to be a vegetable with a breathing tube to stay alive," she said.

Instead, McIntosh has played wheelchair sports from the time she was a child and became an alternate on the U.S. Paralympic basketball team.

"I was inspired by my Junior Jazz wheelchair coach, Dean Oba," she said. "He has had a lot to do with my success."

As a 16-year-old East High student in 2011, she broke the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous wheelie in a wheelchair, going 12.45 miles in three hours and 51 minutes. "I did it to boost awareness of disability issues and to raise money for [the] wheelchair basketball team to travel to competitions," she said.

Through Oba's support, she won a scholarship to the University of Alabama to play on the Crimson Tide's wheelchair basketball team, but returned to Utah after a year to be closer to her aging grandmother.

Tackling challenges and facing adversity are nothing new to McIntosh — and that's where Utah's Republican boss comes into the story.

McIntosh was a GOP delegate at the state convention in April when Evans presented proposed resolutions for approval by voice vote. One resolution, calling for the nullification of federal overreach, was too close to call, so Evans asked the delegates to stand for a head count.

Several delegates, including McIntosh, objected because they were unable to stand and therefore denied their right to represent their precincts by voting on the resolution. Evans dismissed the objections and held the standing vote despite the fact the delegates had electronic clickers they could have used to register their votes.

Afterward, McIntosh organized a rally in front of the state Republican Party headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City, where about 15 protesters in wheelchairs advocated for disability rights.

"I don't want to sound confrontational," she said. "It's not about politics; it's about advocacy."

McIntosh wrote a letter to The Salt Lake Tribune, stating that Evans berated her over the phone and then publicly said he would not recognize the protesters until they apologized to him for the "publicity stunt."

Well, McIntosh will be getting plenty of publicity in the next 12 months.

Ms. Wheelchair America's website explains that the duties of the title holder include traveling the country to visit advocacy groups, make public appearances and conduct media interviews. The purpose: Promote awareness of people with disabilities.

McIntosh seems well equipped to handle those chores. A political science major at the U., she is a volunteer intern at the Disability Law Center and plans on a career of advocacy for the disabled.

The Ms. Wheelchair competition focused on interviews, speeches and written essays by the contestants, complete with individualized themes.

McIntosh's theme: "Where there's a wheel there's a way — identify a problem you are passionate about solving. Invite others to join with you in your cause and ignite your community to enact change."

comments powered by Disqus