One look at rolling red-haired beauty Starla Hilliard-Barnes, and you probably wouldn’t be too surprised to hear she’s Ms. Wheelchair Montana 2014. But you might be surprised to find out a few other things. An avid dirt-biker and the devoted mother to a 2 year old girl, this 26 year old paraplegic isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.
Her journey into paralysis however wasn’t that long ago. Having already run for a national pageant title and won, as well as founded a nonprofit dedicated to help others with disabilities explore the world via outdoor adventures, she’s taken her accident and made something good out of it. We love people just like her.
A fighter, dreamer and epic survivor, this is the beautiful story of the Starla Hilliard-Barnes.
Why she’s fearless
Growing up in a small town in Montana, Starla was your average “girly girl.” She loved gymnastics and in high school she was a cheerleader. She was always physically active. And after high school, she went on to explore modeling, and found success. Yet her whole world changed when she was 21 years old and riding her sport bike through town.
Hit by a truck, she was involved in a hit and run accident, and was thrown from her bicycle. Starla broke her back in multiple locations, as well as punctured her lungs and injured several other organs. She was fortunate to survive, yet Starla left the scene with a an incomplete T4 injury, and thus began her life with paralysis.
After returning home, she decided to take the positive road, and soon Starla found herself attracting more than your standard inspirational “good for you’s.” She attracted the attention of Shannon Hilliard, a man destined to become her husband. One of the more adorable couples we’ve profiled, the two were married quickly and now have a daughter named Elissiah.
But having a family and getting married weren’t the only goals she had for herself post-injury. After winning the Ms. Wheelchair Montana title, she decided to found the Moving Forward Foundation along with her husband and family friend, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with disabilities go one rehabilitative adventures like kayaking and zip-lining.
This past summer her foundation put on their first zip-lining event for people disabilities and it was covered by the local media. Participants were able to zip upwards of 40 miles an hour, making it quite the memorable experience. Watch this video clip featuring an interview with Starla as well as participants from the zip-line event
And more than just providing rehabilitative adventures, Starla is interested in creating accessible school playgrounds in her homestate that allow both parents and children with disabilities to access playground equipment just like everyone else. From wheelchair-accessible swings to elevated in sandboxes, her dream is to make this a reality.
A woman with a huge heart, Starla Hilliard-Barnes is one of those beautiful people who refuses to let bad people win the day. With her smile and her dedication to others, the work she is doing is helping change the world.
What kind of accessible playground equipment would you like to see?
- Visit her site: Never Stop Rocking
- Like her on Facebook: Starla Hilliard-Barnes (public figure)
Watch the videos!