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A Pageant and a Passion

Dietetics student uses Miss United States competition to advocate a healthy lifestyle.

As an Eastern Illinois University student competed on a national stage at the Miss United States pageant, she advocated for healthy lifestyles along the way.

Sylvia Crowder, a dietetics master’s student, spent her first week of July as Miss Indiana competing for the Miss United States crown. The competition is a beauty pageant similar to Miss USA and Miss America, where women are selected to represent the 50 states and territories. Throughout the week, Crowder competed in interview, evening gown and swimsuit categories while promoting her passion for nutrition, which goes hand-in-hand with her degree.

While Crowder did not place in the final 15, she described the experience as life-changing. “I competed on a national stage and that is something very few people can say,” Crowder said. “Pageantry has built my confidence and interpersonal communication skills, and it has allowed me a great opportunity to network.”

Earning a Crown

The Cayuga, Ind. native was never interested in pageants until her senior year of high school when she realized a local pageant supported the American Cancer Society. “Right around the same time, my grandmother was diagnosed with lymphoma. As I was growing up, she was my primary caretaker, so it was very difficult for me,” she said. “I wanted to win to honor her.”

And, she did exactly that— earning her crown and introducing herself to the world of pageantry.

After winning, Crowder was asked by the director of the pageant to compete in more pageants, but it wasn’t till the Miss Indiana Unites States competition four years later that she decided to give it another try. “At the spur of the moment, I got a call from the Indiana state director telling me they were accepting applications and that I should apply,” Crowder said.

Crowder decided to enter, but two weeks before the competition she fractured her left foot working out to the Insanity workout program. Her doctor advised Crowder to wear a cast, but she decided to continue anyway, wearing six-inch heels without a cast. Her decision paid off.

Crowder was named Miss Indiana United States 2014, eligible to compete in the Miss United States competition in July in Washington D.C.

It wasn’t the national competition itself that was the hardest for her, but the lack of sleep. Each morning the contestants woke up between 4:30 and 5 a.m., and arrived back at the hotel at 1:30 a.m. after a full day of events. “You go game face on all the time,” said Crowder, laughing and referring to her makeup and hair preparation every morning.

Her favorite part of the national competition was her interview, where Crowder talked about her passion for nutrition and emphasized why they should pick her. To prepare for the pageant, Crowder hired an interview coach and a walking coach, but didn’t hire a stylist or a personal trainer. “I don’t have a stylist because I would rather pick out what I want to wear and feel confident versus someone telling me what I am going to wear,” Crowder said.

She did not have a personal trainer because Crowder said she practices what she preaches. “I know the benefits of eating healthy and what certain food can do to someone’s performance,” she said. “It’s similar to what a body builder would do if they are getting ready for a show.”

Watermelons and Nutrition

Crowder will continue her reign as Miss Indiana till April 2015, and is expected to attend events for the American Cancer Society and create her own events based on her personal platform. The theme for Relay for Life is focused on better nutrition, which goes hand-in-hand with Crowder’s interests.

“I think Americans are becoming more conscious of the relationship between diet and disease,” she said.

Her passion for nutrition started from watching a family member’s struggle with anorexia, but it wasn’t till her freshman year of college that she considered nutrition as a career path.

Crowder represented the National Watermelon Association as a public relations ambassador for a year, flying all over the country to promote the benefits of consuming watermelon. After speaking in front of groups and communities, Crowder quickly realized nutrition was her calling. She switched her major from biology to dietetics, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Indiana.

Crowder decided to come to EIU because her undergraduate university did not have the necessary clinical experience she wanted. “I heard EIU had a really great program,” she said. “I could not only get my master’s in dietetics, but my internship, too, in an accelerated 19-month program.”

Crowder works as a nutrition coordinator at EIU’s Health Education Resource Center where she plans to teach healthy cooking classes and offer nutrition and MyPlate presentations for the EIU community.

While Crowder doesn’t see herself continuing with pageantry, she said advocating a holistic lifestyle is her life’s work. She already writes a blog focused on nutrition, but she would like to pair her master’s degree from EIU and her blog to open her own nutrition consultation business one day.

So far, Crowder has followers from more than 30 countries. Check out her blog here.

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