“And the winner is . . .”
Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999
You’ve just been crowned Miss America. Imagine hearing these words in front of thousands of people in the audience and millions watching at home. Now you will be on the road for more than 360 days out of the year supporting your platform. Your cause: Diabetes Education and Awareness.
While winning the title of Miss America can only happen to one person each year, many state titleholders promote their platform locally. But for those who do win the title of Miss America, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it’s made even more special if the contestant has a close connection to diabetes—or even lives with it herself.
Nicole Johnson, PhD, was the first contestant with type 1 diabetes to win the Miss America competition in 1999. She was also the first to visibly wear her insulin pump on the runway.
“Becoming Miss America allowed me to have a voice and a platform that were immediately legitimate,” says Nicole. “At 24 it was incredible to go from college student to national advocate and spokesperson in a moment.”
The title of Miss America was a beginning, but certainly not an ending, for Nicole. Since she won the title, she has expanded her education and skills to help more people with diabetes than she ever could have imagined: “Today, I conduct diabetes behavioral research, run national programs and train others. Miss America was an incredible blessing—and something I continue to learn from even today.”
Nicole set the stage for many other contestants with a diabetes connection. In 2014, Sierra Sandison also chose to wear her insulin pump during the swimsuit portion of the Miss Idaho competition and won the state title. Her Facebook photo quickly went viral and inspired many young women to share their own pump photos with the #showmeyourpump hashtag.
Daja Dial, Miss South Carolina 2015, made it her mission to educate people about diabetes, in honor of her older brother. You can read more about her connection to diabetes via Diabetes Forecast magazine. Dial placed in the top 7 during last year’s event.
Age doesn’t limit your capacity to advocate. At the age of 17, Emily Brewer, Miss Arkansas’ Outstanding Teen 2016, has supported American Diabetes Association® events and advocacy programs at the local and state level. She recently won the Teens in Action award for her platform, Winning Against Diabetes, during the Miss America Outstanding Teen competition.
“I chose my platform because my uncle passed away at 23 due to complications with type 1 diabetes,” says Emily. “My great-aunt has type 2 diabetes, and both types are very common in my family. It’s something that I’ve seen firsthand and am very concerned and passionate about.”
This year, Caroline Carter, Miss New Hampshire 2016, will compete on the national stage and attempt to follow Nicole Johnson’s footsteps. Carter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 12. She recently wore her insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor during the swimsuit portion of the Miss New Hampshire competition. “The diabetes community went wild,” Caroline says about winning her state’s title. “Ever since April, even to today, I have been getting pictures of children proudly showing their diabetes supplies.”
Caroline’s personal platform is “1, 2, We: Diabetes Advocacy.” During her year of service, she hopes to spread diabetes awareness and education, and break some of the stereotypes surrounding the disease.
“[Winning the Miss America title] would be such an amazing opportunity for me!” says Caroline. “I would have the ability to meet thousands of people with diabetes along my journey, and as Miss America, I would be able to educate not only my community, but also the nation on the dangers of this disease and ways to live with it.”
Whether you’re in front of a national audience or speaking locally with government officials, advocacy is an important part of the Association’s work. Thanks to advocates like Nicole Johnson and others across the country, we can transform the lives of all people with diabetes.
For more information on how to become a diabetes advocate, visit diabetes.org/advocate.