By Ashley Levin
On Wednesday November 1, former Miss Pennsylvania 2016 Elena LaQuatra visited East Stroudsburg University to discuss how she managed to prosper in life despite losing her hearing and balance at the age of almost four due to bacterial meningitis.
Her event was entitled “Overcoming Deafness to Compete for the Crown” and was sponsored by the ESU Sign Language Club.
“Who here has faced adversity?” she began the event, and much of the large crowd raised their hands.
“Truly, I like to think that disability and adversity are interchangeable.”
Ms. LaQuatra’s talk included home videos of herself before, during, and after her hearing loss, with explanations all the while of what was going on.
February 5th, 1996 – the day she lost her hearing – was as LaQuatra called “the day that everything changed.”
She described her struggles to first be diagnosed; her doctor misdiagnosed her several times as having an ear infection before her pediatrician diagnosed her correctly with meningitis; then to relearn how to talk, walk, and dance, and how her initial cochlear implant surgery in her right ear was unsuccessful before her surgeon and her audiologist Pam – both of whom LaQuatra stated repeatedly “[saved] her life”– replanted it in her left ear.
LaQuatra also explained how she or her parents never let her “use her disability as a crutch or an excuse.”
LaQuatra, born and raised in Pittsburgh, attended DePaul School of the Hearing, one of only 41 schools in the country for the hearing impaired, and the only one in the tristate area.
After completing classes there, she attended Hoover Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon and later Mt. Lebanon High School, starring in musicals, dance recitals, and plays the entire time.
She also received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Communications at Point Park University after winning a $20,000 scholarship.
LaQuatra participated in pageants her entire childhood and teen years, winning Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen in 2007, Miss Teen Pennsylvania in 2010, and finally, Miss Pennsylvania in 2016.
She got her first job as a Digital Video Reporter for Pittsburgh’s online entertainment channel before landing her current job, a General Assignment Reporter at JET 24 and FOX 66 in Erie.
LaQuatra repeated her life motto several times: “When correctly encountered, a disability becomes a stimulus that impels towards higher achievement.”
She maintained a cheerful and positive attitude throughout her talk, making jokes about herself and recalling anecdotes from her late teen and early adult years. She also allowed for a Q&A session.
I asked her “If you could go back in time and give yourself your natural hearing back, would you?”
“No,” she answered, “I love being deaf… I’ve met so many people, had so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I weren’t [deaf]… I can even take my earpiece out at work if people annoy me!”
Elena LaQuatra remains an astonishing example of beating the odds and being an inspiration to those like her.