Military kid uses pageants to shed light on PTSD
From military child to blossoming pageant contest to a champion for mental health advocacy, Kaylee Sheppard is making the military community, especially her hometown of Petawawa, proud of the achievements she’s making on a national stage.
Sheppard has been motivated to drive the national conversation about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of her personal experiences growing up as a military child.
Sheppard comes from a family with many proud service members. Her grandfather, her uncle and her father all have served or are serving with the Canadian Armed Forces. Her mother is also part of the defence team working at Garrison Petawawa.
As a military child, Sheppard was no stranger to frequent moves and, in fact, used the experiences to harness her social skills.
“I always did feel comfortable moving around, it did shape my social skills and my independence, as well. It prepared me for future experiences just like the Miss Universe Canada pageant,”said Sheppard.
PTSD is a condition that Sheppard was familiar with from an early age after her uncle was held as a hostage for a time while serving in Somalia.
“That was a pretty stressful time growing up. We had to learn to stay strong right from the get-go,”recalled Sheppard.
Her uncleâ€™s experiences affected her in an even more personal way when in 2009, at the age of 18, Sheppard was involved in a severe car accident.
“I was able to reflect on some of the things that he had to go through,” remembered Sheppard.
Sheppard spent a stretch of time in a coma and would have to undergo rehabilitation. She recovered at a rehab centre that housed veterans who were either amputees or had sustained traumatic brain injuries.
â€œI was able to speak to them directly and, of course, it influenced my recovery,â€ said Sheppard.
Sheppard was able to eventually recover at a high-level thanks to the support she received during this difficult time.
“I had an excellent support system: my family, a great medical staff, as well, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, but on top of that too I had the Petawawa community who were also there to support me during that time of my life,”said Sheppard.
Her own personal experiences and interactions with veterans would stay with Sheppard as she went back to post-secondary school.
Because of her accident, Sheppard had to close the door on competitive cheerleading, a sport she had taken part in for a number of years. But then the door to pageantry was opened to Sheppard.
“I thought pageantry was the next best thing for me because I could focus on other areas close to my heart,” commented Sheppard.
In 2014, she took part in Miss World Canada, an experience that helped her prepare for Miss Universe Canada in 2017.
“It is all about empowering one another, and it’s about being an advocate for humanitarian issues and being a voice to effect positive change in the world. So, a priority is placed on giving back to the community and staying involved,â€ said Sheppard of the Miss Universe Canada pageant.
Right from the start, Sheppard proudly spoke of her platform for PTSD advocacy and military support, something she displayed for the CEO of the pageant when asked during the interview phase: what bothered her most about the country today?
“I was quick with that answer that more support needs to be given to the military members, especially those returning from putting their lives on the line in order for us to have the freedom that we do,” commented Sheppard.
In the months leading up to the pageant, Sheppard used her platform to shed light on PTSD using social media and speaking with the pageant’s staff and other delegates. She also talked about PTSD while fundraising for Operation Smile, an organization that raises money for children with cleft palettes and cleft lips.
“Awareness is the first step in reducing the stigma, so I was able to do that,” said Sheppard.
The Miss Universe Canada pageant was held in October at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. For Sheppard, the best part of the experience was having her family watch as she represented her family values of military pride. She was able to literally showcase this during the national costume segment when she wore a costume made out of poppies and held a Support our Troops banner.
“That was a cool experience, me walking on the Miss Universe Canada stage and showing others what I represent and what my family stands for” said Sheppard.
Going forward Sheppard intends to use her experiences to keep advocating for military members and PTSD. She now hopes to lend a helping hand to organizations that assist homeless veterans.
I will always be an advocate for military members and other military issues, specifically PTSD” said Sheppard.