At Blowing Rock WinterFest, the Boone Christmas Parade, Boone BOO! and other community events, attendees might have noticed the appearance of Queen Elsa and Princess Anna of the Kingdom of Arendelle greeting and taking photos with kids.
The duo, also known as Moriah McKinney and Emily Rayner, both of Boone, have become fixtures at High Country events in their various cosplay outfits.
“We do it a lot for the kids as they like to see their princesses come to life, they say ‘oh my gosh, you’re real!’” Rayner said. “The kids all hug us, they give us some gifts, sometimes.”
“At WinterFest, a little boy kept coming to us and giving us coloring pencils,” McKinney said.
Rayner and McKinney, graduates of Appalachian State’s Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program, have taken their love of cosplay and, much like Queen Elsa in the movie “Frozen,” have spread their love around.
Now roommates, the two first met at Watauga High School, when McKinney was a junior and Rayner a sophomore in the early 2010s.
“We’ve been best friends since high school,” Rayner said.
A love of cosplay is something the two realized they had in common, with Rayner saying it’s something she’s done since she was a little girl.
“My mom would send me pictures of me dressed up at a young age,” Rayner said.
McKinney added that she wanted to join Rayner in her cosplay.
The two have been cosplaying as Princess Anna and Queen Elsa, dubbed the Ice Sisters by Emily’s mother Karen, for a couple of years.
While not Elsa and Anna, the two cosplay as characters from the Japanese manga series Sailor Moon as well as other Disney princesses such as Aurora, Snow White, Ariel and Cinderella. Rayner also dresses up with other friends as characters from the action role-playing game Kingdom Hearts.
The inspiration for the characters they portray comes from past experiences of bullying.
“The reason why we choose them is that we think they have the same attitude that we do, such as how brave they are,” Rayner said.
“We both like the same things and we both realized that we really liked Frozen, so we wanted to bring the characters to life,” Rayner said. “Since (Moriah is) a few years older than me, she chose to be Elsa and I chose to be Anna.”
The themes of “Frozen,” with the dichotomy between two sisters, is something Rayner and McKinney relate to.
“Even though we’re not related, we act a lot like sisters and people think we’re sisters,” Rayner said.
The two brainstormed and took part in “Frozen Days” at the Watauga County Public Library, where the movie would be shown for kids and the two would sing songs from the movie.
In addition to the Watauga County Public Library, the two have dressed up for Appalachian State’s NerdCon, Boone Christmas Parade, Boone BOO! as well as other conventions in Raleigh and Hickory, and hope to travel to more in the future.
Recently, the two graduated from Appalachian State’s Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program, a program that aims to prepare college-aged students with intellectual disabilities for personal growth and occupational success.
The SDAP program has no set curriculum and is fully inclusive with the university, as students can attends university courses with other students and have full access to all university programs and services.
“The goal upon completion of the two-year program is that students are able to obtain gainful employment that is meaningful to them,” the SDAP program’s website states.
According to SDAP Director Anna Ward, there are currently 10 students in the ASU SDAP program. McKinney and Rayner both took a number of different dancing classes.
“Both of them were interested in doing things that were theater and the arts, so that’s how I feel they both came together to enjoy cosplay,” Ward said.
Both women spoke highly of the SDAP program, noting they made a number of new friends when going through it.
“As some other people in town have said, it’s a game changer,” said Karen Rayner, Emily’s mother, of the SDAP program. “Without it, none of this would be possible. Three people that we know take part in it now.”
After graduating from SDAP in 2015 and 2016, respectively, Rayner, 25, and McKinney, 28, became roommates, which McKinney says was a dream for her.
“I really like it, we both each got our own rooms,” Rayner said. “We have to get our own groceries and we cook our own groceries.”
“It’s a big step for us,” McKinney said.
Currently, the two work part-time jobs, audit classes at ASU and are looking at new conventions to cosplay at, including the upcoming Christmas in July in West Jefferson. In addition, the two are considering future life goals, including finding a special someone worth melting for.
“That’s another reason why we dress up, because we can come across people who like the same things as us,” Rayner said.