Later this June, history will be made as the first woman with autism to compete in the Miss Florida Pageant walks across the stage. This beauty queen's journey to this monumental moment all grew from a passion to help others - Rachel Barcellona, the Miss Florida contestant with autism shared her inspiring story with us.
Barcellona, 22 of Palm Harbor, says her journey to this historic moment wasn't always easy. As someone who has autism and pageant dreams, Barcellona shared with Narcity how she turned what stigmas say is a weakness, into her strength and talents.
Barcellona started participating in pageants at only 5 years old simply because she enjoyed the stage, but some words really brought her down as she began to grow older.
She was told she would never graduate school or have friends and that everything bad would happen to her simply because she had autism. These words struck anxiety and depression into her mind.
In 4th grade, Barcellona decided to take a break from the pageanting stage she loved so much.
During her break, friends and family showered her with love and positivity - reminding her that the stage is where she longed to be. The negativity she endured grew to fuel her passion for pageanting again and inspired her to send a message to the world.
"I want to show others what those with disabilities are capable of. There is a big stigma around people like us, and I want to inspire people; break the negativity," Barcellona said in her interview with Narcity.
Despite the negativity and knowing she was different, participating in pageants again sparked confidence in herself; Barcellona continued on honing her pageanting skills and a talent that you don't see much in this day in age - a beautiful and powerful opera voice.
Barcellona started singing when she was only 3 years old, but she didn't always love opera; originally it was a tool to help her overcome a hurdle she faced living with autism.
"I used opera as a way to overcome my hatred of loud noise, which is a symptom of autism. After listening to the opera tapes for hours I loved them and knew that I wanted to sing like that," she said.
Her voice is absolutely incredible; Barcellona shared her voice at a Tampa Bay Lightning game back in 2018 - you can see a video of Barcellona belting the national anthem at that game below.
She says talent is a huge part of the competition and she will definitely be sharing her voice again on the Miss Florida stage later this month.
Aside from being a beauty pageant queen, Barcellona works at The Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa and is an advocate for autism. According to her Facebook page, this beauty queen also loves heavy metal and anything vintage - and she doesn't let being different stop her from being successful.
To learn more about Rachel or to follow along in her adventures as she makes history, you can check out her Facebook page here.