Beauty queen uses platform to bring attention to rare genetic disorder

Victoria Graham was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome when she was 13.

Graham, who turned 23 on Tuesday, said the condition has been "always an adventure" since she was first diagnosed 10 years ago.

"I was an ex-athlete. I was living my dream. I was going to school and playing, at that point, two different sports: soccer and lacrosse," Graham told the BBC in an interview, "and suddenly I was having brain and spinal surgeries and I had to leave."

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Although she knew her scars would be seen by everyone when she wore backless gowns, she said other competitors considered her "resilient."

"When I'm on stage, I'm not the handicapped girl. I'm not the disabled girl. I'm not the sick girl," Graham said. "It's almost like I'm free."

She said entering the contest wasn't about winning, but she took home the title anyway.

EDS has made some parts of her life unpredictable: Graham said she did not know whether she would need more surgeries in the future. For now, she said she takes dozens of medications each day to help her stay strong and healthy.

And she's using her newfound fame to help raise awareness: visiting children in local hospitals and sharing her story. She also started a support group for people with EDS called the Zebra Network.

In June, she will compete for the title of Miss Maryland.