In February, as she competed for Miss Capital City Teen, Lane Christopher just lost it.
Christopher, a 17-year-old Rock Hill native, was competing in her first pageant. But it wasn’t the competition pressure that got to her; it was Lara Scott, a Miss Capital City contestant.
Scott had a Chiari ribbon on her jacket.
“Do you know someone who has Chiari?” Christopher asked, inquiring about a malformation of the cerebellum.
“Well, I have it,” Scott said.
“And I lost it, because I’ve never met someone who has the same thing as me,” Christopher said. “It’s rare that I even met her, let alone that I was matched as a queen with her.”
Scott and Christopher are competing, respectively, in the Miss South Carolina and Miss South Carolina Teen pageants at the Township Auditorium this week. For these Zipperheads, an affectionate name Chiarians bestow on each other because of the surgical incisions they incur from the base of their necks to their lower skulls, there is strength in numbers.
A Chiari malformation is a congenital disorder that affects the area where the brain and spinal cord connect, typically caused by a herniated cerebellum. In those diagnosed with Chiari, the cerebellum, the region of the brain that controls motor movement, interferes with the flow of spinal fluid. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, trouble with balance and numbness.
Scott, whose talent is dance, was teasingly called Grace growing up because she was not so graceful on her feet.
“She tripped just walking,” Nikki Scott, Scott’s mother said. “We had no idea her equilibrium was off because her spinal fluid was low.”
When Scott complained of losing feeling in her arms and legs, Nikki, who is a nurse, thought it was a brain tumor.
“In hindsight, I can see things,” Nikki Scott said.
Scott, 20, underwent brain surgery in late 2009. The competitive dancer, who has lived and worked in New York, has made Chiari part of her pageant platform.
Christopher, who was 6 when she had corrective surgery, has never talked about Chiari.
“I guess it’s kind of the whole thing growing up and becoming comfortable with yourself,” she said. “Saying that you have a brain deformity is not necessarily something that’s fun to say. I was very self-conscious about it.”
“I embraced this deformity, this disease. It’s who I am,” Scott, from Simpsonville, said. “And it’s kind of cool that God brought us together with her never doing a pageant before and this being my platform.”
They met during rehearsal, and Christopher started crying.
“We’re just having a moment, and I’m holding her,” Scott recalled. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t know this kid.’ ”
“It’s a total God thing,” Nikki Scott said. “God just threw them together.”
They both won their respective pageants, and now they are close friends.
“She’s the only person I probably don’t get tired of in the world,” Christopher said, as she and Scott sat in the Township’s atrium for an interview before Monday evening’s rehearsal.
“I love her,” Scott added.
Christopher recently spoke about Chiari at Palmetto Girls State. She called Scott before her speech.
Their Chiari symptoms will at times flare, unpredictably.
“Usually, people don’t know how I feel when I am going through pain,” Scott said. “I can look at (Christopher) and not say a thing and know that she’s having a headache and I’m like, ‘Someone understands.’ ”
Christopher loses feeling in her fingers and toes when she gets nervous and, as she said, “something important is going on. Like the elections.
“I’m a nerd when it comes to politics,” she added.
Scott placed in the top five at the 2011 Miss SC pageant, so she can coach Christopher about what to expect on the big stage.
“No matter what the outcome is, God brought Lane and I together,” Scott said. “And we now have this bond and we can take this with us forever. It would be cool if both of us were to win. Everyone in the United States of America would know what Chiari is.”
“South Carolina would hit America like a freight train,” Christopher said.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.