Fellow type 1 Sierra Sandison unfortunately wasn't crowned the second-ever Miss America with diabetes as we'd all hoped, but the 20-year-old from Idaho is without a doubt a winner in every other way to our Diabetes Community.
In case you hadn't heard: On Sunday night, millions tuned in to watch the Miss America 2015 competition on ABC and see Sierra be named America's Choice -- meaning she snagged the top number of popular votes in an online video contest that propelled her into the final rounds of the Miss America contest and gave her the chance to show the world how proud she was to show off her insulin pump.
With her Tandem t:slim insulin pump clipped to the waist of her hot pink bikini, Sierra proudly strutted down the runway and across the national stage, showing everyone how diabetes doesn't stop her from achieving her dreams. No, Sierra didn't get to move on past that round and show off her vocal talents by singing a piece from Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie as planned.
But even without winning the national crown, Sierra is nothing short of an inspiration who's won over the D-Community -- and the world.
Through all the media coverage, it's pretty well known by now that Sierra (diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just about two years ago) started the #ShowMeYourPump social media campaign when she was crowned Miss Idaho in July. That set off a firestorm of sharing within our Diabetes Community and beyond, and she's since inspired even more people to do the same -- including Amanda Kuc in Europe who's following in Sierra's footsteps and is no longer hiding her insulin pump while modeling lingerie.
All of that earned Sierra the most votes of any Miss America contender this year for America's Choice, securing a spot among the 16 finalists competing for the national title. Even before getting arriving at the finals in Atlantic City, Sierra appeared on Good Morning America, the Today Show, and countless newspapers and media sites worldwide.
Late last week, Sierra's appearance on the Dr. Oz show with the legendary Dr. Mehmet Oz (taped in August) finally aired on TV, giving an audience from around the globe a look at her t:slim that she clipped to her blouse, along with a demo for Dr. Oz and then a surprise reunion with the girl who first inspired #ShowMeYourPump. It was pretty cool, and no doubt trained a lot of eyes on type 1 diabetes (read: an audience that probably sees more misinformation and type-confusion than not)!
In fact, 2014 was pretty unique in regards to women living with and advocating for their own personal health conditions garnering national attention --- aside from Sierra raising diabetes awareness, Miss Kentucky Ramsey Carpenter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2010, and Miss Michigan K.T. Maviglia lives with hearing loss.
"This was a pretty heavy year for people with health challenges, and I don't recall seeing this before," said fellow PWD Nicole Johnson, who was the first-ever type 1 PWD crowned as Miss America in 1999. "It's interesting to see how this (competition) attracts these personalities that have so much resilience, and are willing to pursue something great in order to give something back."
All of these women have built tremendous potential to raise awareness and improve quality of life for people with people with compromised health. Sierra's cause actually expands beyond her own type 1 diabetes to the Possibilities for Disabilities, a program she runs with her younger sister. They put on sports camps for kids with developmental disabilities to help them gain confidence, find their identity through discovering their passions, give them a chance to build relationships with their peers, and, if nothing else, have the opportunity to participate in activities that they are often left out of.
Sierra's currently in high-demand before she heads back to Idaho, so on her Facebook page, she kept it short and sweet with a two-line post that reflects her positive personality: "Tonight was so perfect. I couldn't have asked for anything more."
In lieu of talking with Sierra, we were happy to chat with Nicole on Monday just after she returned home from Atlantic City where she'd taken her daughter to see the competition. Of course, anyone who's followed Sierra's story knows that Sierra was inspired by Nicole, who wore her insulin pump during the Miss America competition back in the late 90s. Now more than a decade later, Nicole says she hung out with Sierra leading up to the competition, mostly serving to help keep her stress levels in check and make sure Sierra knew it would be OK no matter what happened. Nicole says it was a personally inspiring year for her, too.
"It overwhelmed me in every good way, and I was so incredibly moved and surprised about the way she spoke about me influencing her life," Nicole said. "To me personally, it's so gratifying and humbling to see that every struggle in the past 16 years, every morning I didn't want to get up, was all worth it because if there's one Sierra, there's another Sierra out there who needs that inspiration."
Sitting in the audience at the Miss America competition with her daughter, Nicole said at one point she had her back to the Idaho crowd cheering for Sierra -- and it just so happened they all saw the t:slim that Nicole had clipped to the back of her dress. So naturally, they all began to shout her name in unison to catch her attention. That brought on some laughs and more connections based on #ShowMeYourPump, and Nicole says it all illustrates how much Sierra has done to unite our D-Community.
"She showed us as a community that we can rally around a cause, and that our voice is loud and strong together," Nicole said. "The question on my mind today is 'What's Next?', and my greatest hope is that we don't lose sight of that. We can affect change, if we do it effectively and meaningfully and include every part of the community."
To Sierra, Nicole says this:
"This was one night in a lifetime, and it's only the beginning. The future is up to you."
Just like Nicole and countless others in the DOC and D-Community at large, we can't say YOU ROCK enough, Sierra! Thanks for being confident and inspirational on behalf of us all. We can't wait to see where you take D-Advocacy next...