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Sitting pretty Amputee beauty Bernadette Hagans reveals how she beat cancer to shine in Miss Northern Ireland heats

"For so many girls around the world I hope this opens up pageants."


Bernadette in Belfast’s Europa Hotel

Bernadette in Belfast’s Europa Hotel

Bernadette in Belfast’s Europa Hotel

Bernadette Hagans is making history in Miss Northern Ireland.

The 24-year-old has won her place in the competition final and hopes she's opened the door to difference in beauty pageants.

The charity ambassador lost her leg to cancer just two years ago, and since then she's launched a modelling career and started Paralympics training.

Bernadette, from west Belfast, had the life-changing surgery following a diagnosis of synovial sarcoma, an aggressive cancer which targets joints and tendons.

Her leg was amputated just above the knee, but she was walking again on a prosthetic leg after ten days.

She's since gained a worldwide social media following for her positive posts and last year became a model for footwear brand Kurt Geiger as part of its People Empowered campaign.

When the Miss Northern Ireland heats began again last week Bernadette was invited to join and says winning a place in the final is a world first for the competition.


Bernadette Hagans is a model and training for the paralympics

Bernadette Hagans is a model and training for the paralympics

Bernadette Hagans is a model and training for the paralympics

"It shows Northern Ireland is leading the way," says the model.

"I haven't seen any other countries who have had contestants with a physical difference, so this is leading by example.

"I never imagined that I would be considered, and it means so much to me because I'm showing my legs and showing something that hasn't been seen before.

"For so many girls around the world I hope this opens up pageants."

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Bernadette has become an ambassador for Clic Sargent, the Cancer Fund for Children and the Boom Foundation and says she knew from the start that her diagnosis and surgery wouldn't adversely affect her life.

Her amazing attitude has captured hearts around the world and her story has been reported by news outlets from Chile to Turkey.

"As soon as I was diagnosed I recorded a video saying I had enjoyed my life with two legs and now I would enjoy it with one and a half legs. That video went around the world.

"I wanted to use what happened to me for good. I wanted what happened to me to help other people."

Bernadette now uses two prosthetic limbs, a blade for running and a fashion leg she's had customised.

She had always been a keen runner and has been back on the track again after getting her blade.

"I was always really sporty, and I contacted Athletics NI to ask if I could go along and watch their training. Then my blade arrived and a week later the Paralympic training started up again, so that's where I'd like to go.

"You have to aim high," says Bernadette.

"I just feel so free being able to run again."

For Bernadette the competition final will mark another first since she started using her prosthetic.

"When I was learning to walk on it, I just picked it up really fast," she says.

"There's a button on the side of my prosthetic which adjusts it for wearing heels, so I brought my heels into hospital to learn how to walk on them.

"I'll get to put it into use now for Miss Northern Ireland."

Amy Woodall will be joining Bernadette in the final, due to be held in the Europa Hotel in September.

The 18-year-old is already well known in her home town of Coleraine as a judo coach.

Amy, an A-level student, has had her black belt exams postponed because of Covid but with encouragement from her dad Mark, also an instructor, she's been teaching the martial art in the community.

"I've been doing judo since I was six. My dad always said it's a good way to look after yourself and after my friend got grabbed getting off a bus one day, I thought I'm definitely going to be able to look after myself.

"Because there's a stigma about being a girly girl I wanted to be both, and I'm driving to push other girls and coaches more.

"I've done female-only classes and classes for older women and there has been so much interest in it."

The teenager, studying English literature, history and performing arts, has her sights set on a uni place and she's also determined to do her bit for charity.

Eighteen months ago following her grandmother Fiona's death from breast cancer, she grew her hair to donate it to the Little Princess Trust, which makes wigs for children and young people going through cancer treatment.

"I'm growing my hair out at the moment to do it again. I wanted to do it in my grandmother's memory," says Amy.

Finalist Mollie-Grace McCartney was inspired by grandfather Eddie Harley's hospital treatment to start her career as a nurse.


24 year old Bernadette Hagans

24 year old Bernadette Hagans

24 year old Bernadette Hagans

After studying biological science for a year at Queen's she moved to a nursing degree at Ulster University, following in the footsteps of the staff who had cared for Eddie.

"After seeing the amazing care he received I knew nursing was what I wanted to do," she says.

"I've just finished my first-year exams and I'm on placement in Altnagelvin and I know it was the right choice."

The 21-year-old from Derry took the plunge to enter Miss Northern Ireland to build her confidence, with encouragement from mum Sandra and sister Eleanor Logue.

"During lockdown I looked into myself a lot and gained confidence I never had before and I think this is a good way to build it even more," says Mollie-Grace.

For information about online heats go to missniofficial@gmail.com.

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