Star athlete turned beauty queen, Mackenzie Ford would rather have her face covered in mud than makeup.
Captain of her varsity high school volleyball team, Mackenzie, 16, spent hours every day in the gym this summer training for the upcoming season.
“This was her outlet: working out and sweating,” said Mackenzie’s mom, Jennifer Ford. “She talks about dirt on her face; it’s not a joke. She’s always running full force.”
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Mackenzie decided to ditch the dirt – temporarily – and audition for a local pageant. The announcement of her plans shocked her parents, who are used to a rough-and-tumble teen, but they came to understand her intentions once Mackenzie revealed her inspiration.
Two years ago, Mackenzie’s older brother Nate was killed in an auto accident on State Route 347 at Farrell Road.
A student-athlete with a selfless heart, Nate’s untimely death sent the community into mourning.
“When my brother passed away, I was in a lot of need,” Mackenzie said. “The people who stepped up was Maricopa. They were the ones who wrapped their arms around me when I needed it the most, so I decided this pageant was the best way to give back to the community that has given so much to me.”
In September, MacKenzie used her other talent, motivational speaking, to eventually be crowned Miss City of Maricopa’s Outstanding Teen – a platform she will use to promote and encourage acts of kindness in the community. (Learn what other Maricopa residents were crowned at the October pageant.)
Her program “Everyday Heroes” is an offshoot of a similar effort by her mom called “Mothers of Everyday Heroes,” which operated in Maricopa for two years. Mackenzie’s version will function as a way for the teen to hone her public speaking skills and desire to spotlight good deeds through videos posted to social media.
“(My mom) made this organization to help those in need because my brother was a kid who always helped and always served,” Mackenzie said. “I want to keep it going to keep up his legacy and keep the little acts of service to help in this world that’s getting darker.”
Losing Nate, her big brother and best friend, wasn’t the first trying time in young Mackenzie’s life.
When she was 2 months old, doctors diagnosed a cancerous tumor in her spine. She wasn’t expected to live past 6 months. Parents Jennifer and Doug called the priesthood from their church to give the baby a blessing.
“The doctors made it very clear there wasn’t anything we could do for her,” Jennifer said.
After surgery, doctors were stunned.
“They went to get a piece of it and the tumor was gone,” Jennifer said. “They couldn’t explain it.”
The outlook for Mackenzie’s overall health was still bleak. Her parents put her in extensive physical therapy as an infant after doctors explained she would be prone to arthritis in her neck and spine and likely be physically disabled for the rest of her life.
“I think what we ended up doing was making the bionic woman instead of this being who couldn’t function. She’s always had a fire in her,” Jennifer Ford said.
That spark has led Mackenzie to beat the odds early in life and recently take up challenges that force her out of her comfort zone.
Mackenzie plans to take her platform statewide by trying out for Miss Arizona’s Outstanding Teen. After high school she hopes to study journalism by way of a full-ride volleyball scholarship to a Division 1 school. Ultimately, she wants to join the military and report from the battlefield.
For now, her new life in the pageant world has taught her grace and elegance, as well as a way for her to reconnect with Nate.
“I was one of those kids that numbed the pain — tried to get it out and get it away — but now I’m slowly trying to bring it back and use it for good. Not only has it helped me heal, but I feel like it’s bringing me closer to my brother.”
If you know an “Everyday Hero” contact Mackenzie through Facebook or Instagram @MissCityofMaricopaOT.
This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.