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Aug. 31, 2015

TOPIC: Featured News

Miss Connecticut Talks to NORD about Rare Diseases, the Miss America Pageant, and Voting for America’s Choice

Posted by Jennifer Huron

Miss Connecticut Colleen WardNext month, millions of Americans will tune in to watch the Miss America Pageant, airing live on ABC on September 13, 2015, from Atlantic City, New Jersey.  We were excited to speak with Miss Connecticut Colleen Ward, who will represent the State of Connecticut, where NORD’s headquarters are based!

Colleen and her family are members of the rare disease community.  We chatted by phone this week before she headed off to the competition to learn about her connection to rare diseases, what inspires her, some fun details about the Pageant (the dress!), and why we think she deserves your vote for “America’s Choice” – hurry, voting ends Thursday, September 10th.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. What is your connection to rare diseases?

I have three family members with rare diseases.  My two cousins have rare diseases, Cystic Fibrosis and Langerhans Cell Histiocitosis, and my great uncle passed away from pancreatic cancer, a rare disease.  I am so honored to have the opportunity to speak with you.  NORD has impacted and supported my family as well as families around the world who have loved ones diagnosed with a rare disorder. You dedicate your lives to advocate for patients, families and raise awareness of the struggles affecting nearly 30 million Americans. I am blown away and inspired by your mission and how far you have come. I also cannot be more proud to say you were founded in Connecticut!

Miss America is the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women and one of the organization’s values is community service.  What type of community service are you involved in?

I volunteer at Children’s Connecticut Medical Center through a partnership with Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.  While I was there last week, they were participating in the Chalk the Walk campaign for an 11-yeaMiss Connecticut Colleen Ward with familyr-old girl’s birthday wish.  Chalk the Walk is a national campaign where children and families write positive messages on sidewalks to remember the positives instead of negatives.  I was able to attend this event and write positive messages.  These young girls who were writing messages got me thinking about how lucky I am to be in a position to spread a positive message.  It was just what I needed just before I go off to Miss America.  Plus, they wore the crown and sash even more than I did and tried to teach me how to dance – it was so much fun!

Tell us something that many people will not know about you.

Well, I was the tomboy that my dad wanted.  I grew up playing ice hockey and loved it.  Then, I started dancing.  As I got older, we couldn’t get all of my curls into hockey helmet and it was dance from there on!   One of my hobbies is reading and I probably should not say this, but I have read the Nancy Drew series more than 12 times.

What has this experience been like for your family?

Coming from family where I did not have social media until I won my first title, apparently all you need is a voting system on Facebook and Twitter to get a dad to get on social media!

My family is thrilled to watch me on the Miss America stage and partake in this journey.

My little cousin, Irelynn, has been with me leading up to the Miss Connecticut pageant as my princess for the Miss America mentoring program.  In addition to being a princess in the Miss America program, she participates in another system where her platform is pancreatic cancer awareness.  I am so proud of her, as is our entire family.

You mentioned voting.  How can people vote?

Each year, the Miss America Pageant holds one spot in semifinals for the winner of America’s Choice.  Normally, contestants would send in videos about why they should be crowned Miss America, providing insight into all of the contestants before we get on stage.  This year, Dick Clark Productions created a different type of voting and it is on social media.  Fans can vote on Facebook and Twitter by posting a status or tweet with the name of the state they are voting for spelled out and the hashtag #MissAmericaVote.  The girl with the most votes after September 10th will earn the chance to compete in the finals night.

What are you most looking forward to about the Miss America competition?

I am crazy excited to meet other girls.  A lot of these girls also advocate for health awareness and each girl has something that they are passionate about.  The schedule is going to be packed and I know these will be some of the most exciting weeks of my life.

I am excited for the Miracle Mile Walk, which we do with our partner, Children’s Miracle Network. Plus, I am shoe fanatic and am looking forward to the Show Us Your Shoes Parade.  There are some exciting media events.  I have not been to Atlantic City since before the Hurricane and I am excited to go and be where Miss America was born.

This year, I am the only Irish Step Dancer in the competition.  Usually, there are at least four girls.  I have danced my way around the state and now am making my way to Miss America, what I have dreamed of!

Whether I was two or 10, I grew up watching the Miss America Pageant every year and have always said it would be awesome to be there.  I never thought it would be possible and it is amazing that I am going.

Are you able to give us any insider information about the Pageant, for instance, what is your evening gown like?

I am not able to share pictures, but it is a one-of-a-kind.  When I thought about the dress, I wanted it to show Miss America as someone who is timeless and classic and also very relevant to young girls of today.  It is a feeling of what my style is, what I call “vintage Chanel,” and it is very classic-modern and also red carpet ready.  It is my dream gown and I cannot wait to put it on.  You can watch on September 13th to see it!

A lot of patients and families in our community are looking for inspiration. What inspires you?

My career is teaching people how to read.  I just graduated with a major in elementary education.  Watching a kid learn how to read and hearing his or her first words that come out when reading inspires me.  To be able to watch a child be motivated to complete a goal she or he has set is not something you get to see every day.  A lot of people go to work and are surrounded by adults.  I am lucky enough to be in elementary education and see this every day.  A student of mine inspires me as a 23-year-old who wants to do more in my life.

The winner of the Miss America Pageant will be crowned during the live TV broadcast on Sunday, September 13th at 9/8 p.m. Central on the ABC Television Network.