(WWJ) Alyssa Patrias, 20, had a bad night during rehearsal for the Miss Downriver pageant, freezing in front of the microphone and getting nearly overwhelmed by anxiety.
Alyssa's mom took her out to dinner afterward for a soothing meal. When mom Sue Cameron walked back to the table after grabbing food at the counter she found her 20-year-old daughter in the seat mouthing words carefully to herself.
"I thought she was talking to herself," Cameron recalled. She asked Alyssa what she was doing.
Practicing, she said, she was practicing to get her words for the pageant exactly right.
"Hi, I'm Alyssa, I'm contestant No 4." The girl diagnosed at birth with Down Syndrome was saying it over and over. "She just broke my heart," Cameron said.
But she didn't give up, and the next night when the pageant was real, Alyssa walked right on stage and said it perfectly. She also sailed through the interviews, the talent competition, and the formal gown segment. She walked away with the Miss Congeniality title in the 2017 Miss Downriver pageant.
"She's doing well," Cameron said after her daughter's big night. "She's excited to see herself on TV, she thinks she's a star."
Alyssa, who is painfully shy when cameras aren't around, has been part of the non-competitive All Kids Matter pageant for years, but this year she wasn't feeling it. At 20, she was older than the other kids. The director of the Miss Downriver pageant, who knew her from All Kids Matter, said it might be time for her to go to the big show -- and Alyssa was in.
There was one caveat: She wouldn't get any special treatment. Alyssa would have to do all the things the other contestants did. Her mom was more worried than she was.
Cameron, after all, has watched her daughter endure multiple surgeries, including open heart at 10 weeks old. The night she was born, nurses gave her a pile of outdated books explaining the lifetime of difficulties someone with Down syndrome could expect.
"I never would have dreamed of all the things she has accomplished at this point of her life," Cameron said. "She was always shy as a child, usually didn't make eye contact with others and if asked a direct question would freeze and be unable to answer... She's basically a very shy young woman, she's come out of her shell, but she's basically very timid."
Cameron discovered, though, that when cameras turn on or there's a stage, her daughter loses her fear. She's the first woman with Down syndrome to be a contestant in a Miss Michigan preliminary pageant.
How did she do during the contest? "It wasn't perfect, any of the (segments), but she did the best she could," Cameron said. The pageant gave her the questions ahead of time so she could practice and she faithfully practiced every day for six weeks.
After the rehearsal meltdown, Cameron was especially nervous. "She processes things different, she gets anxiety, she gets nervous and upset," mom recounted. But the day of the show "she just went up there perfectly, said it, and walked back to her place."
What' next for Alyssa? She graduated from Trillium Academy in Taylor and returned to help out. She spends time sorting the mail in the office, working as a teacher's helper, reading to kids, and helping in the cafeteria. She also works a food cart called "Lyssa's lattes," where she sells coffee, hot chocolate and muffins to teachers.
"I never at all (thought she would be at this level)," Cameron said. "I get emotional, you get the diagnosis and you just think the worst just because you think the worst because of everything you've been told ...She's had 10 surgeries. It just seemed really bleak when she was born. When she had the open heart surgery, I just thought I'll handle the Down's Syndrome no matter what comes."
And now she's the veteran of two school plays, multiple talent shows, and the Miss Downriver competition.
During her question segment in the pageant, judges asked why she wanted to be part of it. She said she she just wanted to be like the other girls.
"I thought I was too big for the AKM pageant," Alyssa told them. "I just wanted to be with my pageant sisters."
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