South Molton student Aimie-Jo Footman has proven that there’s no such thing as defeat, defying all the odds to reach the semi-final of this year’s Miss England contest.
The 20 year-old will be facing three other competitors for the title of Miss Devon at Kelham Hall, Newark this Saturday.
If she wins, she will join around 50 other girls battling for the Miss England title in July’s final.
Speaking to the Gazette, she said she’s feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves.
“I’m terrified about some of the aspects of the competition but I’m also very much looking forward to meeting some great new people and making some new friends”, she said.
But the journey hasn’t been a breeze; Aimie-Jo had to battle numerous physical and mental challenges throughout her teenage years, such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), Crohn’s disease, bullying and consequently OCD.
Now on the long road to recovery, she hopes to inspire other young people, setting a precedent that a problem doesn’t have to result in failure.
“I want to learn to speak out for young people like me who experience problems, to spread more kindness, to share with people that even if it is tough when you stay positive you can little by little get over things,” she said.
The health challenges began in Year 7, when she was forced to miss 18 months of school and became wheelchair-bound.
But having recovered sufficiently to return to mainstream education in Year 9, she claims she developed OCD due to bullying and a lack of support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in local health centres and schools.
Her mother Jacqui said: “It happened within a month before my eyes and there was nothing I could do to help.”
Aimie-Jo has since gone on to gain 8 GCSE’s and an A-Level in chemistry. For the past two years she has been studying at Duchy College in Cornwall, where she said she had been able to make friends and start to experience positive teenage social interaction.
She is now pursuing an art course and hopes to enter a career in the fashion or art industry; she is also considering a career in the modelling industry.
“Although I still easily get very anxious, now I’m just about ready to take another step in facing challenges and building my confidence and I hope the Miss England pageant experience will help with that”, she added.
Pop band One Direction has been highly influential in her recovery, in particular Harry Styles’ ‘work hard, play hard, be kind’ motto.
The charity Make-a-Wish fulfilled her dream in December 2014 by allowing her to meet her idols, and she has since created a Facebook page to express her appreciation.
“It was an experience I will never forget; it’s a shame it had to end,” she said.
The Miss England competition is based not only on beauty, but more importantly on each competitor’s capacity to inspire generations of young people through humanitarian and charity work.
On Sunday, Aimie-Jo was fundraising for Miss World charity ‘Beauty with a Purpose’ at Pottington car-boot sale, where she raised £32.
“If it helps just one other person deal with their challenges, then all I’ve been through will be worthwhile”, she said.
Talking to the Gazette about her future aims, Aimie-Jo added: “After the competition I would like to carry on raising money for both Beauty with a Purpose charity and the Make A Wish foundation.
“Also I would like to raise even more awareness of the importance of kindness and in the long term hopefully start my own charity.”