SAN ANTONIO – The new Miss San Antonio crowned on Saturday night is unlike any who have come before her.
While she is gorgeous, well-spoken and talented, Emma Faye Rudkin is also nearly totally deaf.
Rudkin, 18, had never entered a beauty pageant before, but certainly made an impression when she did.
She was just 3 when she had a fever and an infection that damaged her hearing. Then a year later, another infection took her hearing down to about 20 percent.
Doctors were not optimistic about her future.
"They said I need to be put in a deaf school and to learn sign language because I wasn't going to be functioning in a mainstream school," she said.
Luckily, her parents refused to accept that fate -- and neither did Emma.
Her mother, Kathy Rudkin, said there were many times she cried about the diagnosis, but chose to place Emma in a private traditional school, arranged for speech therapy, and even music lessons.
"Whether it was learning three instruments, (graduating) summa cum laude, being in UTSA honors, being on the honor roll, she did it," Kathy Rudkin said. "Every obstacle she just meets."
Emma said she was ashamed and shy about her hearing disability up until she turned 14 and felt touched by Jesus.
"There was a lot of battling to break the mold of being disabled and being ‘the deaf girl.' I had to fight hard to get a part in the play or to learn how to sing and play music. It was always a challenge, but I was able to overcome it," she said.
Her talent portion of the Miss San Antonio Pageant involved singing and playing the guitar, which she says she does by vibration to find the proper pitch. It's quite an accomplishment, considering that even with hearing aides, she cannot even hear certain sounds and letters.
"Deafness has made me. It has shaped me and molded me. I can see that (Jesus) is using me so that I can go out and say (to others), 'You are not held back by your disability,'" Emmy Rudkin said.
She said she plans to use the crown as a platform to inspire others with disabilities and to raise funds for her nonprofit corporation called "Aid the Silent," an organization that provides resources, research, education and answers for those living with deafness.