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Legally blind contestant stops short of Miss Florida USA title

By Kim Segal and John Zarrella, CNN
updated 10:49 PM EDT, Sat July 14, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Connor Boss, 18, makes the top five, but loses to Michelle Aguirre
  • Boss is the first legally blind contestant to compete in Miss Florida USA
  • She was diagnosed with a hereditary eye disease at age 8
  • "I hope that I could inspire others that anything is possible," she says

Hollywood, Florida (CNN) -- Connor Boss, the first legally blind contestant to compete for Miss Florida USA, was a top five finalist at the pageant Saturday but fell short of the title.

The crown went to Michelle Aguirre, Miss Broward County Fair USA.

But Boss, 18, who was diagnosed 10 year ago with a hereditary eye disease, isn't likely to lose too much sleep.

Before the contest, she said 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."

It was a message she echoed during the interview portion of the competition Saturday night in response to what she would like to accomplish in the next year.

"I hope that I could inspire others that anything is possible. You can accomplish whatever you set your mind to, and I hope that they can really learn from my story and take that and apply it to their own lives," she said.

Ten years ago, Boss 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 from 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.

During 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."

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