CHAMPAIGN — There was a time when a doctor predicted Summer Nagele would never be able to walk, talk or eat on her own.
Her parents never let that prognosis stop her, and neither did she.
“She has proven that doctor wrong over and over again,” said her mother, Autumn.
The accolades for Summer — a Champaign Central High School senior with one of the world’s rare genetic disorders — just keep coming.
She was recently crowned the 2023 Illinois Miss Amazing Teen Queen — the third time she’s been named state queen in her age category in this self-esteem-building program and pageant for girls and women with disabilities.
She was also named Illinois Miss Amazing Preteen Queen in 2017 and Illinois Miss Amazing Junior Queen in 2019.
She’s been named in two mayoral proclamations — one by Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen, who proclaimed Sept. 28, 2017, as Summer Nagele’s Be Someone’s Hero Day, and one by Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin, who proclaimed May 12, 2018, as S&J Warriors Day in honor of her and her mother for their fundraising efforts with the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
She was Illinois’ ambassador for the association in 2018 and 2019, and in 2019 was recognized in the national Miss Amazing pageant for putting in 500 hours of volunteer service work.
The only child of Autumn and Michael Nagele of Champaign, Summer was born with what initially was an undiagnosed disability.
The Nageles continued to pursue a diagnosis, and in 2020, Summer was diagnosed with Birk-Barel syndrome, defined by the National Institutes of Health as an inherited condition characterized by intellectual disability, decreased muscle tone, hyperactivity and unusual facial features.
Autumn Nagele recalled the look she and her husband exchanged when a doctor told them their daughter wouldn’t walk, talk or eat on her own and their agreement that followed — to never put limits on their child.
What her parents taught her, Summer said, is “I learned to never give up.”
If she can advocate for herself, she said, she can hopefully advocate for others with disabilities.
And she already does.
Remembering how nervous she was during her first Illinois Miss Amazing experience, she said she talked to girls involved for the first time in this year’s pageant and tried to help put them at ease.
The national Miss Amazing program says it exists because the possibilities available for girls with disabilities “should reflect their boundless potential.”
Now experienced at walking onto stages to speak or sing a song, both through Miss Amazing and local events, Summer sang the Sara Bareilles song “Brave” at the 2023 Illinois Miss Amazing pageant. She chose it, she said, because it’s uplifting and inspiring and she wants to uplift everyone.
With each pageant, her confidence “keeps building and building and building,” Autumn Nagele said.
Rather than focusing on competition, the girls cheer each other on, she and her husband said.
What she likes about participating in Miss Amazing, Summer said: “I get to meet new friends, and don’t have to worry about being judged.”
As an Illinois queen, Summer Nagele will be going on to the national pageant in July.
Meanwhile, she stays busy.
She’s participated in Special Olympics, the Penguin Project theater productions and Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation activities. She’s an avid sports fan, with favorite athletes on her favorite teams — the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Blackhawks and all Illini sports. And she enjoys photography.
She plans to start her college education at Parkland, she said, and her career goal is to combine her love of sports and photography to work one day as a sports photographer.
Her advice for anyone with a disability is to help educate others. If you’re comfortable talking about your disability, share it with others, she urged.
Another piece of advice she also lives by herself: “I would say don’t ever let somebody put you down,” she said.