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Legally blind contestant is a first for Miss Florida USA pageant

By Kim Segal and John Zarrella, CNN
updated 9:41 AM EDT, Sat July 14, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Connor Boss, 18, is the first legally blind contestant to compete in Miss Florida USA
  • She was diagnosed with a hereditary eye disease at age 8
  • Boss, a college freshman, says winning the pageant isn't why she's competing
  • 'If I can inspire one person, I feel like I've won already,' she says

Hollywood, Florida (CNN) -- Connor Boss appears to be just like any other contestant waiting to sign into the Miss Florida USA pageant until it is her turn to fill out the registration sheet. Boss, with her nose almost touching the paper, has trouble reading the form.

Boss, 18, is the first legally blind contestant to compete for Miss Florida USA. Ten years ago, she was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a hereditary eye disease that caused her vision to get progressively worse.

"It affects my retina and my central vision, so my peripheral vision is intact," said Boss. "When I'm looking at people, I try and look around. People take me as being rude but it's hard for me to focus straight forward."

Focusing is not a problem for Boss when it comes to her goals. Boss, a freshman at Florida State University, graduated high school with a 4.2 grade point average.

"All of her tests ended up being read to her, even the SAT and ACT for college were read to her," said her mother, Traci Boss. It was not only academia where Boss excelled; she was her high school senior class president and captain of the cheerleading squad.

Connor Boss is treated like all the other beauty pageant contestants, but she must rely on her other senses.
Connor Boss is treated like all the other beauty pageant contestants, but she must rely on her other senses.

Boss got her start in pageants after seeing her friends compete.

"All the girls participated in this pageant called Miss Junior Harvest Queen and Harvest Queen," she said. Boss entered Miss Harvest Queen when she was 16.

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"I ended up winning, which was the coolest experience," she said excitedly, as if it was yesterday. "And I promised myself after that I had to try another one."

During the pageants, Boss is treated just like all the other contestants, but she must rely on her other senses to compensate for her poor eyesight.

In rehearsal, Boss pays close attention to where she needs to be on stage and how to get there.

"She'll actually say 'four steps here, step down four steps, step down,' " explained Miss Florida USA Executive Producer Grant Gravitt. "She'll memorize it."

Humor is also an important outlet for Boss when dealing with her disease.

"I find a lot of humor in it, the stupid stuff that I do, like running into things, tripping all the time over things that I cannot see," she said.

Although Boss is good at laughing off her missteps, she works very hard to avoid them, especially when she is on stage.

"I think she's different than any other girl but not because of her blindness," said Gravitt. "I just think that she's an awesome young lady that is really coming into the prime of her own."

Boss, who has as good a chance as the other 73 contestants at becoming Miss Florida USA 2013, says the older she gets the less importance she places on winning the crown.

"I've come to learn that it's not even about winning the pageants," she said. "I'm so glad that my story can be shared and that at least if I can inspire one person, I feel like I've won already."

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