By Sara Salam
Madeline Delp knows no bounds. She applies her strengths, or her “superpowers” as she calls them, to focusing on what she can do—defying and transcending boundaries along the way
Consistent with her trailblazing efforts, Delp serves as the executive director of Live Boundless, an organization that educates people on those with disabilities and provides equipment like wheelchairs to those in need worldwide. Whether it’s coaching people on how to release the mental bounds of fear, showing others how to navigate the physical bounds that come with a disability or providing critical medical resources for people, Delp says her goal is to equip others with the tools they need to thrive.
“We aspire to challenge others to reach for a higher potential in their lives, and in turn, give back to the world around them,” she said.
Delp strives to follow her own credo. She competed in her first beauty pageant in 2016, the Miss Wheelchair North Carolina competition, and won. That same year, she would go on to win Miss Wheelchair USA 2017.
Delp is also the first person to compete in the Miss North Carolina USA pageant in a wheelchair. She placed in the top 10, won Miss Congeniality, and is the first woman in a wheelchair to make it this far in a state pageant in the history of the program.
She also became the first paraplegic girl to BASE jump. She has also rock climbed and gone skydiving. “Focus on your ability and what you can do,” Delph said. “Learn to accept fear as a tool, because when you’re able to look your fears in the face and do that thing that you’re terrified of, you’ll become a stronger person.”
When she was just 10 years old, Delp learned she would never walk again. In surviving a debilitating car crash, she suffered a severe spinal injury resulting in paralysis and incontinence.
Within a short time following this life event, Delp began a homeschooling program, because her high school campus was not wheelchair-accessible and unable to accommodate her. She didn’t see her father for almost a year following her accident. Her best friend was killed in a car accident the next year.
“People and circumstances I had thought would always stay constant were quickly fading away….and as the last domino in a long line of heartbreaks fell, a thick cloud of darkness surrounded me–so much so that I could barely breathe,” Delp wrote in a blog post for Aeroflow Urology.
In the wake of these tragic and angst-laden experiences, Delp struggled with anxiety and depression. She would spend as many as three hours a day waiting on toilets during her tween and teenage years as a result of her bladder challenges.
Delp and her mom moved to Detroit when she was 14 where she started going to a rehabilitation center. She had an accident in front of her physical therapy team while balancing with the aid of a harness on a treadmill.
“As we left, one of the therapists caught up with me and said, ‘Madeline, don’t be embarrassed. This kind of thing happens all the time! We think nothing of it–we are used to it. This is just your new kind of normal. It’s just pee.’”
Triggered by a realization of a new kind of normal, Delp decided to make a change.
“In my late teens I firmly decided that I didn’t want to be that person anymore,” Delp told Glamour Magazine. “I may not be able to walk, but I wanted to find something inside myself that was stronger than all the reasons I had to be negative. So I started trying to push myself in new ways.”
She describes a study abroad trip to Germany during college as a “second life catalyst event.” While not without accidents and incidents, Delp would travel to Germany three more times. She would also walk across the stage to receive her diploma. She graduated from UNC Asheville in May 2017 with a degree in foreign language and a concentration in management.
“I did all these things to show people with disabilities that you don’t have to be stopped by the limitations that people put on you.”