This year's Miss Emerald Isle says she will not let a disability derail her dreams

This year’s Miss Emerald Isle, Gina Raucci, told a crowd of people Sunday night that she will not let a disability stop her from reaching for her dreams.

Raucci, a junior at Foran High School, has spinal muscular atrophy, which causes muscle damage and weakness. She wears leg braces, and her stride is slower than most.

“Is someone telling you that you can’t, because you can,” she said Sunday evening at a dinner for her and this year’s parade grand marshal Bill Healey.

Gina wanted to be Miss Emerald Isle since she was a child riding in the parade with her father, Tom Raucci, who regularly drives one of the parade vehicles.

But she thought her disability might stop her from attaining the title. She applied anyway, and wowed the judges with her determination and community spirit.

“It still feels like someone’s playing a prank on me,” the petite brunette said after the Miss Emerald Isle crown was placed on her head.

Earning the crown helped convince her to go for other dreams, regardless of the fact that she has been told they are out of her reach. Drawing on her love of dolphins and other marine life, she wants to be a whale trainer at Disney some day, and she’s going to pursue that goal.

“My disability is just a challenge I have to deal with,” she said.

Gina will be the 23rd Miss Emerald Isle when the St. Patrick’s Day Parade steps off March 9 at 1 p.m. in downtown Milford.

She shares the parade limelight with Healey, a retired fire department battalion chief.

Healey, whose grandparents and great-grandparents came from Ireland, said he was shocked when parade organizer Martin Hardiman called and told him that he was chosen as this year’s grand marshal.

“I said, ‘Are you sure you have the right guy?’” Healey said. “I said there must be others who are more deserving.”

But Hardiman had the right man, chosen from several names put forward this year. Hardiman said in addition to his Irish heritage, Healey has done a lot for the city. He’s worked on the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities; volunteered for a softball league that offered people with disabilities a chance to play; he’s served on city boards and commissions, including the Golf Commission that he is on now, and he’s volunteered with the Milford Toys for Tots program.

“We looked at what he’s done,” Hardiman said. “There’s his commitment to the city, along with his job as a fireman.”

Healey retired in March after 38 years with the Milford Fire Department. He comes from a line of Healey firefighters, and said entering that profession was a natural because it was a family tradition.

Sunday’s dinner in honor of Gina and Healey was one of several fund-raisers for the annual parade.

Hardiman said it costs about $20,000 to fund the event, which typically draws about 20,000 people to downtown Milford.

“A lot of small businesses gave donations,” Hardiman said. “It’s an all-around good thing.”

Milford’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is “the best family oriented parade in the state,” he said, adding that it’s also Milford’s official sign of spring.