Ryann Mason Spotlight

Posted by Kristin Beale in Life After Paralysis on November 15, 2022 # Lifestyle

Kristin Gupta interviews Ryann Mason, 2020, Ms. Wheelchair Virginia.

What is your injury?

I was born with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder that causes all of the collagen in my body to be too stretchy. I also have something called Dysautonomia, where the autonomic nervous system doesn’t work quite as it should.

How has your view on your disability changed through the years?

I had little to no concept of disability growing up. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 16. Up until that point, I think I’d maybe met one person in a wheelchair, and I know it wasn’t until I met my best friend Jacob, also a wheelchair user, that I’d ever been close to someone with a disability outside of a medical setting, and surely not someone who was my age.

How did you learn about the Ms. Wheelchair competition?

A photographer I’d worked with (Rick Myers of Myers Photography) reached out and asked if I’d ever thought of entering. I’m heavily tattooed, I have the foul mouth that comes from spending half my life working in healthcare, and at the time, half my head was shaved. I laughed, wondering what part of that image said “pageant girl” to him. He assured me that it was not a pageant, but an advocacy-based competition…so I agreed.

What did you do to get noticed in the competition?

I remember two sets of interview sessions with a panel of judges: one set privately with judges the day before the competition and the other onstage. We had to create a “Life Board,” which was basically a large tri-fold display board designed to either represent you or your chosen platform. On competition night, we had to present a speech about the platform we chose and share what we’d focus our advocacy works on, should we be crowned Ms. Wheelchair Virginia. That speech was the first and last speech I ever wrote out prior to a speaking engagement. I looked at it twice and crumbled it in my hand. If I know how to do anything in this world, it’s talk.

How did it feel to win?

Remember when I said I threw away my speech and decided to just speak from the heart? Well, my heart could’ve kept me from dropping the F-bomb, as the competition was held in a church. (To be fair, the word was used to respond to the judges’ question about who’s my biggest supporter. I said my sister because she never lets me get too down on myself and constantly reminds me to remember who I am) SO when they called my name, I basically blacked out. I couldn’t believe it. I remember going home that night and asking my then-husband if I could just sleep in my crown because it still didn’t feel real. I may have been a tomboy growing up, but there isn’t anyone in this world who doesn’t feel incredible in a crown.

What was it like to have your first year as Miss Wheelchair VA during the 2020 pandemic?

Not great, I can tell you that. At least, at first. When I won, the Ms. Wheelchair VA Board gave me a ton of information and a list of activities the crowned Ms. Wheelchair attends every year. They were all canceled because of the pandemic. At this point in my own story, I’d already been running my IG page, @chronically_ry, for a few years. I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant to advocate, but I knew social media and, through my job as an RN, I knew how to teach.

With everything going on in the world, I didn’t receive a lot of support from my board. So I was pretty much making it up as I went along: cold calls asking for speaking opportunities, showing up to events in my crown and sash, whatever it took to get my name and face out there and let people know that I was more than just a wheelchair chick in a crown. I’d only been a wheelchair user for a year when I was crowned, and the emotional wounds from that transition were still VERY raw. I decided to use that to my advantage, and I used my first year to advocate for increased mental health services for those with disabilities.

By 2021, I’d managed to build enough of a name for myself that speaking opportunities were plentiful. I wanted to use that notoriety to shift my advocacy to something that was hitting closer to home. I was working my tail off to get a job back at the bedside, so my 2021 platform changed to advocating for disabled employment in the field of healthcare.

What is your day-to-day like these days? Do you work?

I’m a registered nurse with over 14 years of experience in healthcare. For the last year that I lived in Virginia, I worked as the first nurse in a wheelchair to work at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, a major level-one trauma center in Southwestern Virginia. I love being able to use my background as both patient and provider to help bridge the disconnect between the two.

I recently picked up my entire life and relocated to San Diego, California. I’m currently waiting for my CA nursing license to come through (COME ON, CALIFORNIA), and once that happens, I’ll be able to start my next journey – a school nurse! I’m SO excited to work with the kids and be the rainbow-covered queer disabled representation that needed growing up.

What do you do for fun?

While I wait for California to say I can work as a nurse again, I’ve been finding PLENTY to fill my time. My happiest place in the WORLD is on a stage, so living in a major city and being able to actually go to auditions has been INCREDIBLE. Have I made it big yet? No! I’ve landed exactly one job. But I’m learning how to audition, and I’m having fun showing up to modeling shoots as the only wheelchair user in the room. The opportunity to shove my disability into a space where it isn’t traditionally welcome has been an amazing way to teach, and I can’t wait to keep it up. I’m 30 years old with an RN license – what’s the worst thing that’ll happen if I fail?

Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of two books, Greater Things and A Million Suns, and a comic book, Date Me. Check them out and read an excerpt at https://kristinbeale.com/. Her comics can be found on Instagram @Greater.Things.Comics.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.