The #51andjustbegun Tour Hits Vegas

Cuddled up in my cozy (yet rather matronly bathrobe) … it’s 11:00 am on Friday, February 25th. Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m nestled in the type of robe your grandmother wore. No frills. Just a girl sipping chai tea from her favorite tea cup. 

This mornings setting is a far cry from last weeks Vegas explosion of glamour, sparkle and parade of beautifully brilliant women. For those who saw social media posts this past week and think I wake up looking like royalty with every sunrise, think again. It takes a village. Fortunately, I had a pretty damn good village (I’ll talk about my fairy godmothers later. Yes, that’s plural.) 

It’s been about a week since the conclusion of the United States of America’s national pageant. As a first time 51 year-old pageant contestant, I experienced a never-ending flutter of activity and responsibility. Exhilarating and exhausting all in one! I developed new friendships, smashed a few goals and will soon be introducing my two impinged hips to the orthopedic surgeon. Okay, so perhaps the last isn’t all that pleasant, but all joking aside, this IS my world as an older” woman. Today though, it is all about reflection and zen. 

Those who have followed my journey the past few months (and actually READ my posts, lol) know that the sea of preparation for this pageant was met head on with unexpected life happenings a happenin’. I’ll sum it up like this: “I really LOVE glitter, but it’s not so much fun when it gets in your eye.”

So what was this girl supposed to do? 

Answer: Forge ahead, obviously! 

Seriously now. Do you truly believe there would be any other response?  As mentioned earlier…this is my world, and I know no different. Therefore, despite a multitude of medical appointments each week for the past 5 months, hip impingement, diverticulosis, fibroids, a cyst, hiatal hernia, a twice over precancerous diagnosis, IBS-C and now most recently…Gastroperesis (yes, I’m primarily on a liquid diet) I chose to steamroll ahead! Slight TMI? Sorry, but not sorry. I’m all about transparency. There was absolutely NO WAY that I was going to relinquish my title and step away from an opportunity to enlighten others through my platform, “Pages of LIFE”, regardless of the above! I continue to hold firm onto this mindset and am excited to expand my platform alongside the Big Brothers, Big Sisters Organization and their corporate sponsors as #mentorshipmatters

That being said, let’s fast forward a bit. It’s time to highlight those who made me SHINE!

Mr. Donald Howard. My fiancé. My protector. My encouraging one and only. You are a man of God. You are a man of patience (Lord knows you were tested with me) and a man with unending love for his “Beautiful.” (Yes, according to my fiance’ my name is “Beautiful.”) Thank you for holding my hand through every medical appointment, kissing my forehead and oftentimes carrying the weight, all while reminding me that “we’ve got this.” Four words: YOU BET WE DO!  On that note, I cannot wait to say “I do!” Let the wedding planning commence! Miami won’t see THIS coming! #ThrewHowardForALoop

Logan and Paige Kassner: You both are my beautiful, intelligent, kindhearted “keeping it real,” miracle children. Whether it’s a personal journey, life adventure or the propensity to jump into the “random” headfirst, you’ve always supported me, rather than thinking that I am crazy (well, at least you’ve never told me as such.) I suppose it has always been the creative free spirit in me. Truth be told, I already see this creative free spirit in each of you. Clearly the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I’m smiling because they’re really good apples! If there’s one thing the Three Musketeers have learned throughout our life’s journey, it’s that we each believe in writing a memorable and uplifting book of life. We have always remembered, LIFE is worth LIVING! I’m truly blessed and grateful to be your mother. Seeing each of you soar in life is simply an added gift and testament to our unique journey on this earth. I have been given two of the best gifts ever. Lets keep doing incredible things and change the world, TOGETHER.

Miss Lila, Miss Tiara and Miss Naiima: Nothing is better than receiving love and support from extended family! NOTHING. (Especially, when it’s in person!) A large part of the “why” in “why are you competing” was based off my mentees (those I’ve mentored in the past, those I’m currently mentoring and those I will mentor in the future.) My FAMILY extends far and wide and has for over 30 years. I know firsthand how important it is to set goals, take on a challenge and follow your dreams, despite fear, age or circumstances, etc. Thank you for being present, an extended part of MY FAMILY and of course taking the time to travel to Vegas to support me!!! Do you have any idea how HUGE that is!!! Well, it certainly was for me. The support you gave will mean more than you will ever know! I love you all so very much!!!

Elda De La Rosa: A recommendation through Facebook. A vision in design that I had. A design coming into fruition. Through it all, and MOST importantly…a NEW and BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP has developed! Miss Elda, I cannot thank both you and Antonella for the hours and hours of detailed work you both put in, to ensure I looked picture perfect. Knowing I could wear what you created, while being interviewed for the prestigious job of a national titleholder makes me feel so proud! I felt that I made a bold statement yet looked so very angelic! We melded such a juxtaposition together oh so well. From day one it was clear just how much you love your job! I’m immensely grateful for you! You are not just a seamstress and designer. You are an engineer (oh that gown!) THANK YOU simply is not enough.

Miss Megan: Yes, the wild horses of Wyoming were running free in Vegas last week thanks to YOU! Patriotic wear, well THAT was FUN! You know by now just how much I love to reinvent garments and ensembles! What’s even better is that you see the vision as strongly as I do and we’re just as excited! We had many tweaks to attend to that could have caused you to run the opposite direction. Instead, you embraced challenges and used your creative prowess to sail past those challenges. Megan, you are a gift and I’m blessed our paths crossed!

Zee & my Fairy Godmothers: Hey, hey heyyyy. Honestly, what can I say, Miss Zee? I am amazed at your skill, attention to detail, drive as well as cool and calming presence. It’s what I was searching for and desired all along! Guess what? I found her and she delivered, in spades!!!!! THANK YOU SO VERY VERY MUCH!  Both you and the entire team took such great care of the platinum pixie last week! I’ve NEVER felt so beautiful. As a first time pageant participant and “older” woman who enjoys a creative approach on style, you were by far the PERFECT and ONE AND ONLY choice for me! You simply “get it.” All who sat in your chairs were transformed beyond epic status! And each of your team were so invested in us!!! We felt the love 100x’s over, on so many levels! Every look, painstakingly thought out with a detailed vision in mind! If I had a dollar for every compliment given to me throughout the week, I could have paid you double! That said, I’m looking for a hair and makeup artist for my wedding (hint hint) you and your team are just that good. Feeling so blessed that we met!

Brittany Eskew: Goodness, how I do wish we had met earlier. In just a few short sessions with you, I learned SO MUCH! The insight and fine tuning of details is EXACTLY what I was searching for, yet struggled to find for myself in MY own personal pageant journey! Most coaches want to talk about themselves when in a session. You made certain it was all about ME! …my growth. I was YOUR priority. You were invested in ME. I truly enjoyed all  our candid and REAL conversations. Let me just say, REAL is where it’s at! We all need a great mentor and I am so happy to call you mine! Thank you for working hard for ME. I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know and hope we can work together again in the future.

One thing is for sure … SHE. GAVE. HER. BEST.

To all my fabulous family and friends, mentees and beyond who supported me, tuned in to watch the live stream and cheered me on at some level. THANK YOU. Remember to always be that cheerleader for others. I needed my cheerleaders, and you all came through exponentially. Now, THAT IS FAMILY!

Tanice: What a trip! The blessings trickled upon me by the USOA system whose women SHINE through and through has left me smiling from ear to ear. It takes an immense amount of hard work, dedication and commitment by many to build a quality program. It’s in the “village” as I referenced earlier. The attention to detail is most definitely noted here and appreciated. I saw the genuine love my fellow women had for each other…a true sisterhood. The friendships I’ve made in one short week would seem strange to many. But then again, when well over 150+ likeminded women come together to #uplift #empower #inspire …what do you expect? 

To our new United States of America’s Ms. 2022, Keerah:

We met by chance about a year ago while attending a local pageant. I asked you to sit next to me at that pageant. Soon after you came to my #51andjustbegun celebration and dinner. Later, you chose to support and attend an educational event I brought into MKE. After that, I recall you asking me a business question … “What should I charge.” My response was, “Know your worth. Charge your worth.”  Keerah… you certainly found your worth! Use this title to bring all of the blessings upon others that you have had bestowed upon you! I’m truly pleased our paths crossed a year ago. Life is a journey, isn’t it? Who’d ever guess that we’d both be competing together at the same national pageant, same division AND back to back in the lineup? Me 51 And you???…well, a bit younger than I! Lol! Warm hugs and best wishes go out to you! Congratulations…and of course, enjoy! From this day forward life changed as you know it! 

Time to wrap it all up with a big red bow:

My goal was Top 12 (yes, I wanted this title badly, yet I’m also a realist.) But guess what? I made that goal. TOP 12! However, I’d be lying if I said that I was completely content. After being called into the Top 12, let me just say that I was more than ready to walk the stage once again in my swimwear, better than in prelims.  

Sadly, those who tuned in to the live stream or were present (including judges) were privy to my “little stumble” (meaning, Carla’s heel caught the hem of her sarong) or as I might call the moment… “the kiss of death.” Needless to say, I did not make it to the next round. Initially, I was incredibly frustrated with myself. Out of ALL of the times to have my heel catch on fabric, THIS was going to be the  moment!?!? AND a moment when ALL of my friends back home were watching? All of those “what if” thoughts were flying through my head immediately afterwards. Sigh. 

That said, it did not take very long to snap out of it though. You see, my entire life has been an epic journey. I’ve been through more than I care to admit. Which is why immediately reflecting upon my platform was paramount at that particular moment. A platform that is all about taking ownership in your own book of life! Hence, Pages of LIFE (L)iving (I)t (F)ully (E)veryday. WE are the authors of our own story. 

My story didn’t exactly play out the way I wanted it to while onstage during finals, but I CHOSE to keep smiling. I CHOSE to appreciate the opportunity given. I CHOSE gratitude over grumbling. I CHOSE to see the big picture. This 51 year-old CHOSE to see an accomplishment of epic proportions! I’d say that I’ve already won.

Yay, me!