Teaching with a tiara
Olivia Woodrich uses her platform to change perceptions of a misunderstood syndrome.
Olivia Woodrich, who holds the title of Miss Broken Arrow Outstanding Teen, educates her Broken Arrow High School classmates about Tourette syndrome, which she was diagnosed with at age 7. She will compete for the Miss Oklahoma Outstanding Teen crown this month.
When I first met Olivia Woodrich during a production of Playhouse Theatre’s “Little Women” in 2013, I would never have guessed there was anything “different” about the spunky young actress. That’s in part because I — like many people — had some huge misconceptions about Tourette syndrome.
Now a confident 17-year-old pageant queen (named Miss Broken Arrow Outstanding Teen in December), Woodrich, who is an incoming senior at Broken Arrow High School, has a platform to set that record straight.
When did you realize you had Tourette syndrome?
I was diagnosed when I was about 7 years old.
After that, what was your journey like?
I was bullied a lot as a kid. Some of my teachers didn’t understand what was happening. For a while, I was ashamed of myself, and I didn’t want people knowing. There was a segment of the “Dr. Phil” show that featured a person with Tourette’s, and this girl had, like, the most severe case. And I thought that was a shame. Because there’s so much more to Tourette’s than cursing or screaming. Less than 10 percent of people who are diagnosed with TS actually do that, and that is called coprolalia.
How does your TS manifest?
My tics get worse when I am anxious. Usually they manifest as throat clearing, or coughing over and over. These are called vocal tics. Sometimes I do things like bending at the waist several times in a row or twitching my face. These are called motor tics.
How did having TS motivate you to start doing pageants?
I just realized I had this built-in platform. I wanted to educate others and show them that a person with Tourette’s can win a beauty pageant — that we’re not so different.
Does TS present unique challenges during pageants?
I stutter in the interview room. But when I’m on stage, everything goes away. When I’m on stage I’m not any different than any of the other girls. I’m just having fun.
You were recently named a youth ambassador for the National Tourette Association of America. What was that like?
I spent two days getting trained in how to talk to people about Tourette’s. The next day we went to Capitol Hill and we spoke to members of Congress and senators. I also was awarded a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition.
Before the conference, had you ever been around other kids with TS?
I never knew anyone who had it. So, when I went there, it was a shock, like, wow, I’m not the only one. It was wonderful. If I needed to tic, or if I stuttered, no one judged me. I met a girl who does the Miss Maryland Outstanding Teen pageant system, and her platform is also Tourette syndrome awareness. We talk every day, and we’ve honestly become best friends.
What’s the ultimate goal in raising awareness?
Once people get a better understanding of what it’s really like, then maybe getting more funding will be easier. We were able to get an extra $2 billion (from the federal government) for this fiscal year. That covers every neurological disorder — which is awesome — but only $4 million of that goes to Tourette’s research. It is estimated that one out of every 100 schoolchildren has Tourette’s or another tic disorder, so this is not very much money considering how many people are affected.
Have there been moments when you felt like giving up?
People still pick on me. Honestly some days I wish I didn’t have this. But then I realize what all I’ve done and that I am educating others so they can understand. And that makes it all worth it.
Miss Oklahoma Outstanding Teen
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