Before Michaela Haney was born, doctors told her mother, Kristi Haney, that she wouldn’t cry as most infants do. She screamed.

Doctors also told Kristi Haney and her husband, Brandon, that their daughter would have to be on oxygen for six months. Michaela Haney was on it for six days.

At nine months, when Michaela Haney was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, doctors told her parents she wouldn’t live past 2 years old.

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The girl, who is now a freshman at Lanier High School, beat the odds, and on Saturday added one more accomplishment to her list: winning the Gwinnett County Miss Incredible Pageant.

“We were in tears; we were in absolute tears,” Kristi Haney said. “She continues to amaze us every single day. There’s nothing that she can’t do.”

The inaugural pageant, which was held in Peachtree Ridge High School’s auditorium, featured nine Gwinnett County Public Schools girls, all of whom have some sort of disability.

The goal of the evening? To highlight the girls’ accomplishments, said pageant founder Pari Jain.

“One of my two older brothers is deaf, and he was part of my influence,” said Jain, who is a sophomore at Peachtree Ridge. “I have heard his struggles, growing up, with being a student in high school but also being deaf and having that disability, so I wanted to find a way that we could bring confidence and inclusion into this community.”

Another factor that went into Jain’s decision to host a pageant was her own high school experience.

“With the struggles of being a girl in high school, I wanted to see, ‘how can we make these girls’ lives better,’ because having a disability and going to a high school is so much harder than just being a teenage girl and going to high school,” Jain said.

With the help of Peachtree Ridge Special Education Administrator Ashley Stratemeyer, Jain spent months reaching out to sponsors and spreading the word.

“She and I met weekly to talk about things and planned it up until the last week, when it was every day running through things,” Stratemeyer said. “She really did all of it; I was just telling her yes, telling her no, what is appropriate, what isn’t appropriate, but she did all of it.”

“Pari is an incredible young lady and I’m excited to see where it’s going to go the next two years, since she’s going to be (at the school),” Stratemeyer continued. “There are definitely some things that we need to improve after watching this, but I couldn’t more happy about the way it turned out, and I am blessed that she asked me to be a part of it. I actually got chills and I think I screamed as loud as the parents of the winner.”

Jain said she was also pleased with the event — though the realization that she successfully planned and executed a pageant “hasn’t really hit.”

“I’ve seen the smiles on the girls’ faces and their parents’ faces, and it is the best thing I could ask for right now,” she said. “I’m extremely grateful for that; I am very thankful for what’s been going on.”

All of the contestants in Saturday evening’s event will be hosted at TPC Sugarloaf, one of the sponsors, in late April. Next year’s pageant is scheduled for Feb. 29.

Crime Reporter

Isabel is a crime and health reporter for the Gwinnett Daily Post. She graduated from Emory University in 2016 with a B.A. in international studies. She is originally from the Boston area.

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