Interview with Miss Idaho, Sierra Sandison

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The hashtag of all hashtags in the diabetes community last year was #ShowMeYourPump. #ShowMeYourPump took off after Miss Idaho, Sierra Sandison, proudly displayed hers while competing in the Miss America Pageant.  Sandison brought not only a new awareness to diabetes, but confidence to those living with diabetes. Sandison, who won the America’s favorite vote in the pageant, took the time to chat with ASweetLife about living well, diabetes inspiration, and yes, a few make up tips.

What is your state of mind today?

Overall, I am just grateful. When it comes to my diabetes, which of course, I used to think of as the worst thing that has ever happened to me, I now view it as the best thing that has ever happened to me. It isn’t just because I became Miss Idaho, but instead, it is the best thing that has ever happened to me because of the priceless friendships I have made with fellow diabetics, along with the fact that I have overcome a challenge. But, at this point, I can’t really separate diabetes from the rest of my life. I have my dream job of public speaking, which is basically getting paid to travel and inspire people. I couldn’t be more satisfied!

What is your diabetes mood at the moment?

Proud! While my A1C has increased a bit, I have still been able to maintain healthy numbers. As a role model, especially, I want to be able to show people that the huge responsibility of taking care of this disease may seem impossible, but it isn’t! We can do it! It may be difficult, but it is possible.

Share your best diabetes moment to date.

At a diabetes event I met a little girl, Emily* We were introduced by her parents, who asked if I could talk to her about wearing an insulin pump. I always get nervous about that request, which I get a lot these days. I feel like it’s a decision that kids have to make on their own. There isn’t much I can say. But as Emily’s parents told me she had been bullied for her diabetes, especially the fact that she wore a CGM, I glanced over and saw the sad look in her eyes. I knew that even though I didn’t think my talking to her would do much, I had to try. Every time I had an opportunity to talk to Emily one-on-one, she asked sincere questions, and truly wanted to know my answers. Had I ever been made fun of for having diabetes? Had I ever felt self conscious about it? How did I come to love myself in spite of living with the disease?

Sierra Sandison - Miss IdahoUsually, on weekends I get hired and paid to speak at diabetes conferences across the country. For Emily, I saved up my own money and drove to her hometown so that I could speak at her school. By that time, I had spoken at many schools in Idaho and around the country. I drove for hours to another state on my own dime to give what I now consider the most important speech of my life so far at Emily’s school. I told the kids my story: how I had gotten diabetes, and been self conscious about it because it made me different; how I wasn’t popular in high school, and really didn’t want an insulin pump that would make me more different than I already was. I then heard about Nicole Johnson, at which point I immediately changed my mindset. I turned to my friend, and said: someday, I am going to Miss America, and I am going to wear an insulin pump. That statement was obviously met with skepticism. I was kind of a tomboy, not coordinated or graceful enough to ever walk on stage in high heels. However, two years (as well as many lost pageants, failures, make-up, voice and modeling lessons) later, I was crowned Miss Idaho 2014, and achieved my dream of wearing my insulin pump at the Miss America pageant. I told the kids, like I always do, how we all have difficult, things happen in our lives. For me, it was diabetes. For them, it might be family problems, or some other crisis. However, with the right attitude, we can turn those obstacles into opportunities. They make us stronger, and even more importantly, they give us a way and a reason to make a difference in the world. Finally, I asked who among them had ever felt different. Who had ever been made fun of? Who had ever felt self conscious about something? Who felt like something about them made them not normal? They all raised their hands. I explained that I used to feel that way about a lot of things, most obviously, my insulin pump. I came to realize that the things that made me different, made me Sierra. They made me, me. They made me unique. And therefore, they were beautiful. I wasn’t beautiful in spite of them, I was beautiful because of them.

My speech was over, but then I remembered that Emily had made the decision to get a pump, and would be wearing one in the next few weeks. So I quickly said, “Wait guys! I’m not done, sorry! I forgot to tell you, your classmate, Emily, is going to be wearing a pump just like me soon!” What happened next gave me goose bumps, and quickly filled my eyes with tears. The same fourth graders who had, just hours ago, been uncomfortable around their classmate because of her disease, and often bullied her about it, jumped to their feet and applauded, giving an enthusiastic standing ovation.

I think about that everyday. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience something like that again.

What is the best thing anyone has ever said to you in life?

One of my best friends, Laura, once told me that “sometimes the reason we think we shouldn’t do something, is the exact reason why we absolutely have to.”

I shouldn’t wear my insulin pump in a beauty pageant because no super model would ever wear an insulin pump. It doesn’t fit the beauty standards set by the media. It will make me different, and stand out.

Those are the exact reasons why I absolutely had to wear my insulin pump: people from all over the world struggled through the same confidence issues I did. Millions of people wear insulin pumps, and even more have something that makes them feel less than beautiful. That is why I had to step up and be an example: everyone is beautiful, not in spite of, but because of their differences.

Share some advice you gladly ignored.

I love riding my bike, and I will usually block out one day per week to ride 60-80 miles at a time. I also run long distance, and anything endurance. Obviously, any activity can be dangerous. Of course, I have to deal with lows and blood-sugar-craziness because of these activities. I have had people say it is unwise and unsafe to exercise that much with type 1 diabetes. I also had people discourage me from backpacking through Europe alone for four months. Did I have some scary blood sugar incidents? Of course. That’s part of life with diabetes. But, I probably would have scary blood sugar incidents if I just sat around watching Netflix all the time, too. We cannot let fear hold us back from living our lives fully with diabetes.

Who would you like to meet most in the world?

I’ve already met Nicole Johnson, who was at the top of my list, diabetic-celebrities-wise. And I would obviously die if I met Nick Jonas. Other than that, I would do anything to go back in time and have a Starbucks date with Eleanor Roosevelt.

What is your internal theme song?

Hmmm…One, Two Step by Ciara has a line that says: “The princess is here: CIARA” (or as I like to think: SIERRRAAAA!!!!). But I would have to say the one that fits my life is Get Up by Superchick.

Tell us at least three things that are in your purse right now.

Hahahahaha…

  • Every kind of make up you could ever imagine (although, I only really put it on like twice a week when I have Miss Idaho events)
  • Lots of bobby pins
  • About three gazillion used test strips ;)

What do you most dislike?

Dream crushers.

People tend to try and look out for me by telling me things are impractical. I know they mean well. People who discouraged me from pageants didn’t want me to feel the pain of losing. People who discourage me from traveling don’t want me to spend money, or get into dangerous situations. I have always proved them wrong. If I put my mind to something, I achieve it. Right now, I really want to own resorts and theme parks when I grow up—a crazy insane dream, I know. Normal people don’t own, like, Disneyland, or whatever, so people I tell that to are quick to say “that’s going to be really expensive,” or “that’s going to be really difficult, maybe you should pursue a safer career.” That’s just not how I roll.

What is your greatest indulgence?

Sleeping in (I try to request that all my flights and appearances are no earlier than 10am if possible). I am such a teenager when it comes to my sleep. I also love carbs and chicken nuggets from Chick-fil-A, and go there way more often than I will ever admit. 

What is your idea of happiness?

I love the idea (I read it in a book once) that the meaning of life is to love, be loved and to learn.

I am at a place where I love myself. I am surrounded by people I love and who love me, and I have lots of free time (and time on airplanes) to read. I am also able to make a difference every day!

Your number one beauty secret?

I wear sunscreen everyday. I take my make up completely off every night. I think you should aim to be as beautiful as possible without make up on—take care of your skin, wash your face, etc. That way, you are more confident without make up, and when you do put it on, you have a fresh, beautiful, clean slate to work with.

Also, loving yourself makes a huge impact!

*Name changed to protect privacy.

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Sharon Harris
Sharon Harris

I’ve had T1 for 53 years. My DM has never stopped mefrom any of my goals — except being an Air Force officer! My diabetes has actually led me into many wonderful opportunities. We make the best of what and where we are.

CindyFagan
CindyFagan

Very inspirational!! Keep up the great work. My son was diagnosed with type 1 one yr ago at 11. We call him the “Juggernaut””. Of course it was the worst thing to happen to him and all of us as a family. Instead of going to his aau basketball tourney, we were in the hospital for 4 days. Two days later, we were back at school and Bball practice like nothing happened– only to add a lot of testing and too much worrying on my part!!! He did not skip a beat– never once has felt sorry for himself– he… Read more »

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