This July a young woman with multiple sclerosis, a passion for fiddle-playing, and dreams of teaching and spreading MS awareness, took the crown as Miss Kentucky. Ramsey Carpenter, putting her in the running for the 2015 Miss America Pageant. Though Ramsey didn’t take home the Miss America crown, she did make the top 12 finalist list and the favorite contestants list. In her role as Miss Kentucky, where she won a $2000 scholarship, Ramsey sill hopes to take her passion and personal story into the national spotlight to spread MS awareness, and—the ultimate goal—find the cause and cure for the disease.
Ten days after her 20th birthday, Ramsey was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her first symptoms surfaced in early May of 2010, during her finals week at University of Kentucky. “I woke up and it felt like my hands and feet were asleep, but I couldn’t get the numbness to go away,” she said. The clinic at her university suggested her symptoms were from stress and sent her home, but the symptoms re-emerged later in June. When her symptoms began to affect her fiddle playing, Ramsey knew something was seriously wrong. Her chiropractor suggested she see a neurologist, and she was diagnosed with MS on August 25, 2010.
Ramsey was initially relieved to receive her diagnosis, but feelings of confusion and curiosity followed shortly behind. “I believe with treatment, I’ll be able to live an everyday regular lifestyle, but why don’t we know what happened here? Why was I selected to get MS?” she said. Her passion to discover the cause and cure for MS has helped drive her and kept her motivated while competing for Miss Kentucky over the past three years.
The Miss America Pageant was something she had always watched, but never thought she’d have a chance at being a part of, then, almost on a whim, Ramsey entered the Miss Kentucky pageant after she started to look for scholarships to help pay for her college education. “I thought, ‘why not give it a try?’” she said, “the Miss America organization is the number one provider of scholarships to young women in the United States right now, so that drew me in.”
With the help of a disease-modifying therapy Ramsey has been able to live symptom free, so her MS has not negatively affected her ability to compete. “If you have MS it’s important to stay active, nourish yourself, and take better care of yourself— this gives me another reason to live a healthier lifestyle.” However, the possibility of a relapse is a very real fear for her, especially after losing her ability to play the fiddle during her initial diagnosis.
Ramsey was eight years old when she started playing the fiddle. She continues to play and perform for various events outside of Miss America, such as the national anthem for the opening football game for University of Kentucky this year. “My fiddle is my framework,” she said, “it is something that is very important to my tradition, and to my life. If I were to have a relapse in the future that caused me to not be able to play it again… that’s one of my greatest fears.”
After her diagnosis, Ramsey drew strength from the journey of David Osmond, a musician who had also lost his ability to play during his initial MS diagnosis. Ramsey has adopted his motto as her own: I have MS, but MS does not have me. She said, “sometimes it’s gonna get hard, and you have to persevere, continue to try, and triumph over adversity.” Listen to your body, take care of yourself, and stay positive – these are the three things that help Ramsey live her best life after her diagnosis.
Ramsey feels it has been a privilege to advocate for people with MS and to spread awareness to such a large audience. The support she has received from the MS community has been overwhelming. “Individuals contacted me through Facebook just to say ‘I have it too, and I love what you’re doing, and I love that you’re trying to help us out with this,’” she said, “and that meant so much to me that they saw and understood that I’m doing this for everyone who is diagnosed, not just myself.”
Involvement with the National MS Society is important to Ramsey, and she plans to stay involved in whatever way she can. “ I will always be involved in the MS chapter and national events, just to make sure that we continue to bring people in to the MS movement, to make people passionate about it,” she said energetically. In the past Ramsey has worked with the Kentucky—Southeast Indiana chapter to raise money and awareness through Bike MS and Walk MS. She has also spoken at multiple events