Born to Shine
A glowing personality and plenty of ambition earn awards and applause for an Oxford teen.
Written by Maggie Crouch | Photographed by Joe Worthem
On a sunny Friday afternoon on the Oxford Square, one lemonade stand raised more than $400 for Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children.
The ambitious manager of the stand stood shoulder-high next to her college-age assistants, who hustled to fill cups and collect money from customers. But there was no doubt who was in charge of the whole operation — her infectious laughter drew in the crowd: Aubrey Armstrong, age 14.
Because of that fundraising work, which took place during the University of Missisippi’s RebelTHON last fall, and her personal history with Batson Children’s Hospital, Aubrey was named the 2019 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Champion for Mississippi.
“Her personality is super outgoing, and she truly brings joy to anyone she comes into contact with,” said Andrew Russell, Children’s Miracle Network coordinator at Batson Children’s Hospital. “She can walk into a room of 1,000 people or even just two people and make everyone there feel like they’re her best friend.”
Aubrey was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder in which a person has three copies of chromosome 21, instead of two. Growing up, Aubrey needed medical care ranging from physical and speech therapy to more specialized treatments, and she became a familiar face to the doctors and staff at Batson.
“When we moved here to Oxford five years ago, we kept going back to Jackson for appointments, just because we love it there so much,” Aubrey’s mother Holly Armstrong said. “Because of Batson, Aubrey’s received the best medical treatment out there and has had some awesome opportunities, like flipping the coin at an Ole Miss football game and now being awarded the 2019 Mississippi Champion.”
Aubrey’s parents encouraged her to do everything any other child her age was doing and to pursue her interests whole-heartedly.
“It’s only been three months having Aubrey as Mississippi Champion, and she’s already blown us out of the water,” Russell said. “We’re super excited to have her on board and to see what she can accomplish in these next nine months.”
As Mississippi Champion for 2019, Aubrey juggles a busy schedule, including radio show appearances and fundraising efforts. But she has also been a regular contestant in pageants and is the reigning Miss Amazing Mississippi Junior Teen 2019. Miss Amazing is an organization that provides opportunities to women and girls with disabilities to advance skills learned in aspects of pageantry in a supportive environment.
“She had to do an interview, a talent and an eveningwear competition,” Holly said. “This summer, we’ll go to Chicago to compete in the national pageant, and this will be her second time competing at the national level, but just for a different age group.”
Aubrey’s duties as a Miss Amazing title-holder also include appearances and fundraising for the organization. People and local businesses can sponsor her. In June, she visited Columbus Air Force Base where she toured the facility and got her own flight suit.
“I love competing in pageants because I can stay on stage and just dance,” Aubrey said. “Dance is my talent, and I like to do freestyle, especially the sprinkler.”
Now 15, Aubrey is excited to be starting her next adventure as a freshman in high school.
“It’s so rewarding to see her move on to high school,” Holly said. “The amount of time, effort and love that everyone at (Oxford Middle School) has poured into her is immeasurable.”
Kristen Busby was Aubrey’s teacher at OMS for two years and will be moving to Oxford High School this year. Busby is looking forward to working with Aubrey again.
“I’m not only Mrs. Busby, her teacher, but I’m also one of her good friends,” Busby said. “She builds these special relationships and has with a ton of (people) around Oxford. I can always count on Aubrey to put things into perspective even when I’m having a bad day.”
Outside of school, pageants and her Mississippi Champion duties, Aubrey enjoys baking cupcakes and filming makeup tutorials for her YouTube channel. She also works with her therapy dog, Delilah — another special connection Aubrey made.
“Aubrey met Delilah when the dog visited her school,” Holly said. “She came home and wouldn’t stop talking about the dog, so we got in touch with Wildrose Kennels. She was able to go visit Delilah and started working with her every week, and eventually they let Aubrey adopt her.”
“I have to train her every weekend,” Aubrey said. “I throw a ball to her, and then once I say her name, she will go run and grab it. Now she’s my dog.”
Aubrey’s ability to connect with others extends to everyone she encounters, according to her father, Brad.
“She has a unique personality that a ton of people gravitate toward, whether it be a kid or an adult. Even college kids swarm to her,” Brad said. “(With Aubrey) you’re going to have an interesting conversation and leave feeling good with a smile on your face.”