Sierra Sandison, known as Miss Idaho in the Miss America Organization, is an athlete, sports camp director, pageant queen, and type 1 diabetic. In the 2015 Miss America pageant she placed in the top 16 out of 52 contestants, winning America’s Choice by number of votes and automatically making the finals. Many diabetics within the online community rallied behind her and voted for her.
Thousands of diabetics feel they can relate to Sierra, as she proudly displayed her insulin pump on her bikini and gowns and created a #ShowMeYourPump hashtag that went viral. In fact, thousands of people in 25 different countries used the hashtag and shared pictures wearing their pumps.
Sierra was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 18 during her freshman year at the College of Southern Idaho. She was losing a lot of weight, drinking an unusually large amount of water, and using the restroom three times a class period.
One day she went snowboarding—one of her favorite winter activities—and had to use the restroom after every run. She would grab a few water bottles, drink them on the ski lift, and then need to use the restroom when she finished the slope. “Halfway through the day, I called my dad and told him I thought I had a serious problem. I told him I thought I was an aquaholic and was addicted to water!” Sierra said in an interview with the blog The Princess and the Pump. “He started laughing at me and asked if I was being serious and if it was that big of an issue. I said yes—that it was weird. He said I probably had diabetes.”
She officially found out at church the following Sunday. Her community’s diabetes educator happened to go to her church and checked her blood sugar in front of her friends and pastors. “It obviously was one of the worst moments of my life at the time but it was nice to have it be around people that I love.”
Even beauty queens have problems, and Sierra says that competing in pageants while trying to manage her glucose levels can be difficult. It’s especially hard to keep focus during onstage interviews when she is feeling low, and it’s also difficult to manage her highs because of stress. Sometimes she overcorrects her highs and becomes really low. Describing one time when she was high on stage, she says, “I gave a lot [of insulin] and when I got back to my room I was about 65.”
Sierra also feels frustrated by the lack of knowledge and understanding from her peers about the disease. “It's frustrating when people undermine my capabilities,” she says, adding that people (her college friend and family included) often think they should regulate her blood sugar for her.
Even though Sierra’s official platform for the Miss America pageant is helping special needs kids through sports camps, she considers raising awareness and tolerance for diabetes as her second platform. She also sees a distinct connection between diabetes and mental disabilities—the people who suffer from them shouldn’t feel held back by their conditions.
The advocacy began when Sierra decided to wear her insulin pump on her bikini, and in the Miss America pageant, conspicuously shown on her ball gowns. She was terrified and repeatedly asked others if she should wear it. “In the end I decided that it's part of my personal convictions that I don't want girls to think that you have to be skinny or tall or absolutely flawless to be beautiful,” Sierra tells Princess and the Pump. “[The insulin pump] is one of the so-called flaws that I have. I wanted to show girls that it can't stop you from being beautiful and it can't stop you from following your dreams. That's why I decided to wear it. . . . Whatever your deviation is, you should be proud of it because it's what makes you unique!”
Like always, the online social community finds something to complain about. People have argued that by wearing the insulin pump on the outside of her clothing, Sierra is glamorizing diabetes and encouraging kids to buy candy and soda so they can get the disease. “It’s completely ridiculous,” Sierra tells NJ.com. “Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and we have no control over whether or not we develop it.”
Type 2 Diabetes
Although Sierra is a type 1 diabetic, she discusses the importance of extending compassion to those who have type 2 diabetes. She says that many people judge those who are type 2 diabetics and say that if they just exercised and ate healthy, they wouldn’t have the disease. But, she acknowledges that this is the wrong approach. “If you have a loved one with type 2 diabetes, approach them with love, compassion, and empathy and help them try to get on a healthier lifestyle,” she tells NJ.com. “Do not attack them.”