Caroline Carter never imagined she’d trade her basketball sneakers for stilettos, but in a few months this 18-year-old Miss New Hampshire will compete for the Miss America crown in Atlantic City. In the meantime, Carter talks about her type 1 diabetes diagnosis day, the people who inspire her, and her belief that diabetes should never be an excuse.
Do you remember the day you were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?
I was diagnosed with T1D when I was 10 years old. It was a terrifying experience for me. No one in my family that we knew of ever had diabetes. It was a crazy whirlwind that today seems like a blur.
I remember coming home from Hershey Park, Pennsylvania, and being diagnosed with mono. Fast-forward about three weeks at the doctor’s office: A doctor, stepping in that day, took one look at me and said, “Oh! You don’t have mono! This is just a bad case of strep!” Without tests, she gave me amoxicillin. By the following week I’d lost 13 pounds, had no energy, made frequent trips to the bathroom—complete burnout. I couldn’t carry my fourth-grade backpack up the stairs! Finally, I returned to my doctor, who, after checking my blood sugar (545), admitted me to the hospital where I would learn about my new life.
How has your diagnosis shaped who you are today?
Diabetes has definitely matured me a lot faster. It is hard sometimes, but in the grand scheme of things, I know it could be so much worse. My mother told me when I was diagnosed that “everybody has something.” You have to embrace your something and make a difference. My something is diabetes. I know it has affected my life in a positive way. It has developed me into a driven young woman. I’ve become involved in many programs to combat this disease, and I have met so many amazing people along the way.
How did you get involved in pageants?
I didn’t see a billboard or a flyer about pageants and then decide it was for me. Actually, I never thought I would trade in my basketball sneakers for stilettos, but fate had another plan for me.
My sister, Lauren, entered Miss Vermont USA for fun one year. Well, she won! In 2011, my sister went to Miss USA. I thought it was cool, but not for me. I wanted to sing, I was just getting involved in drama club, and I wanted to get out there and serve my community. The next year, Lauren had moved back to New Hampshire. While at a road race, someone chased her down and recruited her for the Miss America Organization. She began playing guitar and singing as her talent, and using fitness as her platform. I fell in love with the idea! I get to serve, sing and earn college scholarship money? That is like the Triple Crown to me, no pun intended!
Does T1D affect your ability to compete?
The only thing I worry about is what to do if my blood sugar drops during any phase of competition. I have only had this happen once, when I had to chug a few juice boxes. It is not an experience I would like to have again.
Do you wear your pump during pageants?
I have worn my pump in competition for the past five years. Diabetes is not something to be ashamed of! I always mention my pump and sensor during interviews, and they are especially visible during swimsuit.
Has Sierra Sandison [Miss Idaho 2014, who also has T1D] inspired you?
Anyone who fearlessly stands up for what they believe in inspires me. Sierra had the strength and bravery to go on national television wearing her pump. We have met on numerous occasions, each time taking a “show me your pump” picture.
Do you view your role as Miss New Hampshire—and, ultimately, Miss America—as a platform for T1D advocacy?
Absolutely! Everywhere I go I wear my sensor and pump. I tell everyone I can about diabetes, the T1D community, the stereotypes and what we can do to fix them. I have been put in a position where I can make a difference. As Miss NH, I have the chance to walk the walk in Atlantic City, proudly showing off my diabetes. As Miss America, I would travel across the United States, speaking at every event about the trials and tribulations of diabetes.
What are your goals as the future Miss America?
I would love to work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation nationally, and really reach out through the camera to make a difference—like Mary Tyler Moore and Nicole Johnson [Miss America 1999]. If I could go into schools and teach young children about diabetes, maybe they wouldn’t be so caught off guard or scared should something like diabetes ever happen to one of them.
And your future plans?
I am excited to be going to college! This fall I am going to be a freshman at the University of New Hampshire, going for an English education major. I am hopefully going to start my own blog soon, and would love to continue working with the JDRF and Medtronic.
What message do you think is most important to share with kids who are living with T1D?
Your diagnosis is not a curse. Never look at it like that. See it as an opportunity to do better, to make a difference. Never use your diabetes as an excuse, because if you take care of yourself, you will live a long, happy life. Anything is possible. Nothing is out of reach.
Caroline Carter will compete in the Miss America 2017 pageant on September 11. Last year, Miss Idaho, Sierra Sandison, won the pageant’s People’s Choice Award, which put her in the top 15. Carter says, “I would love to have your vote … I would show off my pump and sensor on stage, on national television! Please follow me on social media, and as soon as the voting is up, I will post about it. I won People’s Choice in New Hampshire, so let’s go all the way!”