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What does having the words “Miss America” on your resume do for you in the real world? What doors does it open and what difference does it really make?
For Nicole Johnson, 27, it has probably meant more than it does to her fellow former winners of the ultimate beauty-queen award. When asked, “What will you do if chosen Miss America?” instead of responding “Fight for world peace,” or “End world hunger,” Johnson opted to say she would use her one-year reign to raise awareness for diabetes.
And raise awareness she did.
It can be argued that no one celebrity has done more to raise awareness for diabetes than Johnson. It can also be argued that no former Miss America has held so steadfastly to her platform long after her reign had ended.
Since relinquishing the crown in September 2000, Johnson, who was diagnosed with type 1 in 1993, has not let up in her crusade to educate people about diabetes. She also lobbys government officials for increased dollars for diabetes research. While doing all of this, Johnson also found time to write two books and tour the world tirelessly.
We caught up with the former Miss America to see what she has been doing.
What have you been up to in the past few years? Do you find your schedule today to be busier than it was when you were Miss America?
This last year has been a year of creation for me. I have written two books: a cookbook entitled “Mr. Food’s Quick and Easy Diabetes Cooking…with Nicole Johnson” and “Living with Diabetes…The Nicole Johnson Story.” The latter is my autobiography.
I am also in the process of setting up a foundation to benefit people with diabetes and I am honored to be recognized as an international diabetes spokesperson for a second year. I have visited over a dozen countries to raise diabetes awareness in the past two years, which has been an incredible experience. In addition, I continue to travel around the United States speaking about my experiences and encouraging people with diabetes to be advocates.
Outside of diabetes, I have become very involved in the religious community, sharing my testimony both in churches and on television.
What experience did you take away from your reign of which you are most proud?
That would have to be raising over $12 million for diabetes research and helping to pass diabetes-related legislation in nearly a half-dozen states. I was most touched by the courage, strength and passion that lies in the hearts and souls of those in the diabetes community.
I think the children touched me the most. There were numerous occasions when a child would come up to me and tell me that I was their “diabetes hero” or “queen of diabetes.” Those are the moments that I will never forget.
I am also grateful for the memory of sharing my Miss America crown with thousands of children that share my life challenge. I see their faces each time I see that crown sparkle or shine.
How is the task of controlling your BGs different today than when you were traveling all the time as Miss America?
It is actually more challenging today. Now I travel worldwide on behalf of raising diabetes awareness. Because of this, I am constantly evaluating and re-evaluating my BG levels and basal rates on my pump. The difference in time zones is a challenge no matter how you look at it, but it is possible to manage it well and aggressively. I am obsessive about testing my blood sugar when I am on the road.
What are your BGs like today, and to what do you attribute success in controlling them?
I am in very good control. I am so proud that my HbA1c remains at the recommended levels, despite my hectic travel schedule. My average BG is around 130 mg/dl.
Do you still wear a pump and how has it improved your control?
I still wear a pump. Right now, I am wearing the MiniMed 508 and I absolutely love it. My control continues to improve and I attribute much of that to using the pump and Humalog insulin. I wouldn’t go back to shots for anything in the world.
What is the message you have for young people today who have diabetes and are afraid or who feel different from other kids?
Diabetes only happens to very special people—I am convinced of that. I hope that young people will always remember that they have the strength inside of them to beat diabetes. They are the ones who are in charge and who hold the keys to personal success.
The first step toward realizing this potential and ability is committing yourself to good diabetes care.
The second step is remembering that in every situation there is a positive and a negative. It is your decision on which scenario to dwell.
The third step is to realize that you are a very special person with very specific, God-given talents. Use your talents, intelligence and obstacles to turn a difficult situation into an opportunity. You can do it because you have the ability. You are different because of your strength. Always remember that real friends are supportive and loving in all circumstances and situations.
A Day in My Life
by Nicole Johnson
I wish I had a typical day. In reality, I have now been sleeping in hotels and eating in restaurants for three years.
What follows below is a typical day for me:
Get up. I usually eat cereal or oatmeal and raisins. I then go and take a brisk walk or make a trip to the gym. If I go to the gym, I walk on the treadmill or Stairmaster for about a half-hour and then do strength training.
I typically eat a light lunch consisting of fruit, yogurt and salad. Then, around 1 p.m., I go back to work.
6:00 to 9:00 PM
I usually eat dinner somewhere in this time frame. It all depends on what my schedule permits. Dinner typically consists of chicken and veggies. Sometimes I choose to go for another walk in the evening after I eat.
I spend anywhere from two to four hours a day on the computer, about two hours on the phone and the rest of the time is spent working on various projects. I confess to being a news junkie and never go to bed until I watch the evening news.
How to Cope with Diabetes
by Nicole Johnson
There is really no single method that is a sure-fire way to deal with having diabetes. First, however, it is important to realize that diabetes is very different in each individual.
Some tips that have helped my family and me cope with diabetes are:
1) Having a Good Relationship with Your Medical Team
When I was diagnosed with type 1, we found a physician that I could trust. It is so important to have faith in your medical team and to know—deep in your heart—that they are doing all they can to help you.
2) Having a Support Group/Support Team
I don’t have a group that I go visit, but I consider my family and a few close friends as my diabetes support group. I know that I can call them when I am down or having a hard time with my diabetes control, and they won’t belittle me. Instead, they support and uplift me. I also know that I can celebrate my successes with them.
3) Living My Life with Lots of Hope
Each day I live with the knowledge that science is advancing during those few waking hours. Today, we are much further along in the fight against diabetes than we were yesterday.
4) Using Sources of Inspiration to Help Me Along the Way
When I feel down, I sit back and reflect on those people I know who have had diabetes for many years. They are my inspiration. I think about the people I have met who have achieved the 50-years-with-diabetes medal. I also think about the kids I have met who live with this day-to-day.
It helps me to remember that, all over the world, we are all facing the same struggle and we are all working toward the same goal. At any given time, there are many of us testing our BGs together. We are all warriors in the same battle. If we want to win, we can’t give up or let the enemy cross the lines.
5) Relying on My Faith to Help Me Cope with My Diabetes
Prayer is a huge part of my diabetes care and control. I accept the fact that I can do nothing on my own. God’s strength really helps pull me through.
6) Playing a Game with My Diabetes
It often helps me to look at diabetes in a different light. I try to
turn things around and turn diabetes into a personal
competition—a game with real rewards and setbacks.
For instance, I will challenge myself to two days with perfect BGs. If I accomplish this, I may grant myself a great dessert or a trip to the ice cream shop. Now, mind you, this is not all the time.
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.