Sierra Sandison knows how to get the diabetes community pumped! The 20-year-old with type 1 diabetes became a social media sensation this past summer when she posted a photo of herself wearing her insulin pump during the Miss Idaho competition (which she won!). Sandison also competed in the Miss America® pageant in September 2014, with her pump proudly showing—and came home with the America’s Choice award. If your child could use a confidence boost after being diagnosed with type 1, Sandison’s story is a true inspiration. Here, she talks with us about why diabetes is nothing to hide.

Q: What was it like to suddenly find yourself living with diabetes? What helped you adjust?

A: Diabetes flipped my world upside-down! At the time, it was one of the most traumatic things that had ever happened to me. It was such an overwhelming concept to accept: I had to prick my finger, give myself shots, and constantly worry about my blood sugar every day, for the rest of my life. I had a horrible attitude for the first few months, and I didn’t want to accept it, take care of myself, or think about getting a pump. Soon, I heard about Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999, who wore her pump while competing. That was the defining moment for me, because I realized it was ridiculous to think that wearing an insulin pump would make me weird or less beautiful.

Once I got involved with the Miss America Organization, I dreamed of someday wearing an insulin pump on the Miss America stage. But it still took me a couple of years to gather the confidence to do so! My involvement also helped me decide to take extremely good care of myself and my disease.

Q: What made you decide to wear your pump during competition?

A: From the moment I heard about Nicole Johnson, I knew I wanted to compete at Miss America someday while wearing a pump—but I was terrified. Since then, I spent a lot of time studying current events and social issues in order to prepare for the difficult Miss Idaho and Miss America interviews. One topic that I have grown to be passionate about is the way the media distorts our definition of beauty. In reality, I believe everyone is beautiful, but since the media only provides us with a narrow, exclusive example of what they think beauty should be (tall, skinny, symmetrical, flawless), we have begun to see anything that deviates from that mold as “ugly.” That’s ridiculous!

None of us can possibly live up to those standards. I believe that the solution is for the media to expand their definition of beauty and display a broader spectrum of what it means to be beautiful. Rather than show the same supermodel over and over, we should see people of every size, shape, color, age, etc. So, I decided I had to do my part. If I took off my pump while competing, it would be equivalent to being photo-edited on the cover of a magazine. I would be hiding the so-called “flaw” that makes me unique. I wanted to show other girls that whatever their “pump” is, whatever makes them insecure or different, doesn’t make them less beautiful. They shouldn’t hide it or be ashamed. In fact, it should be celebrated!

Q: What did you think about the resulting #showmeyourpump movement that followed?

A: The only way I can really comprehend what people are feeling when they say I’ve inspired them is by remembering how much Nicole Johnson touched my life! But as for what the DOC [diabetes online community] has done for me—it has been incredible. I’m going to be honest: The night before I was about to compete for Miss Idaho and wear my pump on stage for the first time was terrifying. Even after my picture went viral, I’m not going to lie and say every ounce of fear was completely gone immediately. I still get stares and questions about my pump on a regular basis. But what my campaign and the overwhelming number of messages, emails, comments, shares, and even fan mail letters have shown me is that I am not alone. There are SO MANY other people out there who also wear a pump. I am not weird. I am not the only one—even though I feel like I am most of the time. That has been so incredible for me to realize, so thank you DOC!

Q: Besides using an insulin pump, what is your diabetes care routine like? When you compete in pageants, are there any extra steps you need to take?

A: I eat really healthy and love anything and everything that keeps me active, so that helps a lot in making sure my blood sugars stay in good control. I love Crossfit®, powerlifting, skiing, snowboarding, long-distance running, biking, and hiking.

My go-to snacks are peanuts, almonds, and pistachios. I also eat a lot of applesauce or a banana with peanut butter when I’m in a hurry. For the most part, I try to steer clear of unnecessary junk food (but, I will admit, chocolate cheesecake is my weakness).

When I am competing in pageants, it can be stressful and fast-paced. I try to keep my blood sugar [on the high side of my range] so I don’t go low during a time where it would be super inconvenient for everyone.

Q: What advice do you have for children with diabetes?

A: Don’t ever, ever, ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because of your diabetes. Be aware that it will probably make a lot of things in life more difficult, but it won’t make them impossible! Whether you want to be Miss America, a ballerina, run a marathon, etc., don’t let diabetes hold you back!

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.

Miss America is a registered trademark of the Miss America Organization. CrossFit is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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