Nicole Johnson Can’t Slow Down

Former Miss America takes multitasking to a whole new level in her quest to promote diabetes education

| Jun 1, 2004

Nicole Johnson doesn’t know how to take it easy. An admitted type A personality, Johnson—who enjoyed the national spotlight as Miss America 1999—serves as a consultant or spokesperson for about a dozen different organizations.

She also travels around the world to educate people about diabetes and is currently pursuing her second master’s degree in public health. In addition, she has written several books and spends several days a month lobbying on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

And, oh yeah, the newlywed is still adjusting to a household with a husband—news anchor Scott Baker—three step-kids and a new puppy.

A Decade of Diabetes

Although Nicole rarely gets a moment to breathe, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Having survived a medical roller coaster ride that began a decade ago, she’s just glad she’s now healthy enough to handle her busy life.

For Nicole, the problems began in her late teens. After she was misdiagnosed three times with flu-like symptoms, doctors suspected diabetes—a diagnosis that was eventually confirmed when she was 19.

Nicole wasn’t very familiar with diabetes, and what she first heard wasn’t very uplifting. “A lot of people at the hospital were pretty discouraging. They told me I’d never graduate from college, that I’d be wasting my time pursuing my career dreams, because I’d never be able to handle a demanding career with diabetes.” Fortunately, Nicole was born with a strong stubborn streak.

“I’m the type of person who, when someone tells me I can’t do something, that just makes me even more determined to do it.”

Becoming a Part of the ‘Army’ to Fight Diabetes

Still, Nicole admits there was a rough adjustment period.

“You’re just sailing along, a carefree college kid on top of the world, and all of a sudden, Wham! It was pretty shocking, and I did go through denial and depression for quite a while.”

Eventually, she emerged from her funk determined “to become part of the army to fight this disease.”

Not by coincidence, she first got involved with pageants around the same time.

“With this disease inside me attacking my body and making me feel worthless, I guess in a way I was proving to myself that I wasn’t really damaged goods; that I could actually accomplish great things.”

But it was no easy feat. At one point, pageant officials encouraged her to drop out of the competition because of her condition. But she had other plans.

In 1997, she finished in the top 10 of the Miss Virginia pageant. The next year, she wound up taking the crown and the next step toward Miss America.

Not Your Typical Miss America

Soon she went on to achieve her ultimate goal, capturing the Miss America 1999 title.

But Nicole was never your typical beauty queen. She rarely wore the crown and wasn’t a big fan of riding on parade floats with a perpetual smile plastered on her face. To her, that kind of stuff wasn’t important.

She was more focused on using her time in the spotlight to inform and educate people worldwide about the dangers of diabetes.

Nicole, who has always been a big fan of the insulin pump, helped publicize the device, often appearing at functions with her insulin pump clearly visible. Today, she wears an Animas pump.

A Fixture in Washington, D.C.

Nicole, who dedicates her life to diabetes-related causes, spends at least 30 percent of her time in Washington, D.C., lobbying Congress on behalf of diabetes issues. In addition, she also works with state legislatures to improve insurance coverage and general health care for the millions of people with diabetes.

One of Nicole’s favorite projects right now is working with children with diabetes in schools. She is working to improve the situation for those children both on the state and national level. Her goal is to end the discrimination against kids with diabetes in the school environment by allowing them to manage their blood glucose and become responsible adults.

Nicole also works as a consultant with numerous groups, including the Georgetown University Medical Center and the American Diabetes Association. She writes a monthly diabetes lifestyle article for Georgetown’s “My Care Team” Web program, which can be found on her Web site (

Raising Millions for Diabetes Research

Research is another of Nicole’s pet projects. She’s helped raise millions of dollars over the past few years for diabetes research and predicts great strides in the area of diabetes diagnosis and treatment.

Among other things, she envisions a more patient-friendly glucose-sensing device.

“I hope that when I mark my 20-year anniversary of living with diabetes—less than 10 years from now—I’ll be wearing a noninvasive device that involves no more fingersticking.”

A Successful Author and Health Nut

In addition to her autobiography, Nicole has written two cookbooks. She follows a diet that she basically made up herself, and admits her biggest challenge is getting enough protein.

“It’s much better to take a slow, steady approach to nutrition and fitness. With exercise, my advice is to move more every day. Even if you can only do a little each day, do it. If you wait for everything to be perfect, that day will never come.”

Nicole says she exercises anywhere she can.“Many times you can find me speed-walking in airports, pacing shopping malls or running in hotel stairwells.” Especially now, with three children, Nicole is finding exercise more challenging. She says it is all about “innovative incorporation of movement,” which is why she is in talks to write a book about exercise in the next year.

What the Future Holds

Nicole—who holds a master’s degree in journalism—is currently pursuing another master’s in public health. Eventually, she plans to start a communications firm, enlisting the help of her husband, Scott Baker, a news anchor.

But she adds that she will always continue to focus on diabetes education and outreach.

“We need more programs that are culturally appropriate and meet people where they are in life with diabetes,” says Nicole. “Education is only effective if the person on the receiving end gets it and sees it as useful. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Clearly with the trends in diabetes and obesity, we need more people thinking creatively about how to address the problem. I hope, as my career continues to grow and expand, that I will be one of those people.”

The passion for diabetes education has led Nicole to establish a partnership with Eli Lilly and Company as the chairperson of the Lilly Partnership in Diabetes program. Because of her interest in and reliance on nutrition and exercise, Nicole has also agreed to be an advocate, along with GNC, in educating the community about prevention and healthy living. She is currently advising GNC on the prevention and disease section of their more than 6,000 stores.

For more information about Nicole, visit her Web site at

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