Salt Lake Community College student Lina Nguyen was merely 16 years old when a tragic automobile accident changed her life forever.
A resulting C4 spinal cord injury left her paralyzed from the chest down. As a quadriplegic, Nguyen faced a long road of recovery and rehabilitation, but with the support of family and friends, she fought her way through.
According to Nguyen, recovery was slow and agonizing.
After coming off a feeding tube, Nguyen had to learn how to speak again. What followed were months of physical therapy, which helped her regain partial use of her right arm. She was fit with an electric wheelchair four months after the accident, but this was only the beginning.
Nguyen spent a year and a half in the hospital in order to rehabilitate her body, but mentally, acceptance of her new life took much longer.
“It took years to accept my new life, it was a journey,” Nguyen said.
Before the accident, Nguyen wanted to become a nurse.
“I love helping people, it’s in my core and something I have done since I was little,” she said.
Although Nguyen’s dreams of helping people remain, they have taken another form. Now, her aspiration in life is to be a mentor in her community; to inspire others to embrace their disability as a superpower and showcase it as something that makes them unique.
“I didn’t know anything about disabilities until I was disabled,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen faced her new reality head on, returning to high school to show others that “just because you have a disability, it doesn’t mean your life is over.”
After graduating high school, in 2014, Nguyen enrolled at SLCC, where she continues to thrive.
Now, at 27, Nguyen is the publicity and advertising vice president of the student association and will be graduating this May with an Associate of Science in Communication Studies.
“I’m proud to be a Bruin,” Nguyen said. “SLCC has been a welcoming, helpful atmosphere.”
Nguyen also advises the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Accessibility Advisory Committee and is active in the Ladies in Motion support group — a group she credits with helping her open up about her story and giving her the courage to share her experience with others.
In 2010, Nguyen placed as the first runner-up in Miss Teen Wheelchair, which inspired her to follow her dreams and interview for the 2020 Miss Utah Wheelchair pageant.
On March 4, SLCC President Deneece Huftalin crowned Nguyen as this year’s Miss Wheelchair Utah.
“Proud to crown Lina Nguyen as Ms. Wheelchair Utah and wish her luck in the Ms. Wheelchair USA competition later this summer … she’s an inspiration and advocate for women!” Huftalin stated in a tweet.
Nguyen is passionate about her platform, which involves supporting inclusivity by spreading awareness about the value of support groups and peer mentors for people with disabilities.
“With this platform, I plan to educate others about the positive impact that support groups and peer mentors can have for people with all different types of abilities,” Nguyen said. “I believe that these support systems create a better lifestyle for people in the disability community, allowing them to come together, learn, and support each other through their trials and successes. Ultimately, I want people to know that they are not alone when they experience challenges or acquire a new disability. Together, we truly are stronger.”
Nguyen’s original plans to travel and share her story during her reign have been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Utilizing her communication degree, and with the support of family and friends, she hopes to assemble videos to share her platform and prepare for Miss Wheelchair America.
In a recent Facebook post, Nguyen wrote: “My extroverted side is not really enjoying this whole Quarantine but I know I am doing this for the safety of everyone and especially myself because having a high spinal cord injury means I have a very low immune system.”
As Miss Wheelchair Utah, Nguyen will represent the state in the upcoming National Miss Wheelchair America competition, scheduled to take place Aug. 17-23 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Nguyen and the other contestants will spend a week together bonding and sharing their passions.
“It would be such an honor to win Miss Wheelchair America, but mostly I’m looking forward to the experience and being able to meet other women who have disabilities just like me and coming together on such a positive platform,” Nguyen said.
You can follow Lina’s journey on her social media profiles: