People News

Crown is platform for Mrs. Michigan

1.2 from 4 votes
Sunday, June 01, 2008

Stephanie Hunt was incredulous when she received an invitation several years ago to compete in a beauty pageant for married women.

Sure, she had competed in beauty and talent pageants as a teenager. They even helped pay her way through college.

But she thought those days were behind her. She was an adult with a family, a job and a young son suffering from a rare disorder.

Hunt figured she wouldn`t have time to devote to competing, and she thought of her son.

"That`s exactly why you should be doing it,`` a pageant official told her, Hunt recalled.

Suddenly, her perspective changed. Placing high in pageants would offer an ideal platform for her to champion her new cause - raising funds for rare disorders such as the Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome that affects her 4-year-old son.

Donnie is one of the few children diagnosed with RTS, a rare genetic condition characterized by developmental delays and physical abnormalities. Experts say the syndrome is believed to have been diagnosed in fewer than 1,000 people worldwide.

With her new goal in mind, Hunt got to work - eventually shedding about 100 pounds with the help of a personal trainer based North Carolina. Pageant consultants worked with Hunt to improve her interview and interpersonal skills. She watched DVDs and worked the Internet.

And on her third try, late last month, Hunt won the Mrs. Michigan United States Pageant. The victory sends her to the national Mrs. United States Pageant, to be held in Las Vegas July 8-12.

More important, Hunt says, the opportunity puts her under a broader spotlight to champion her cause.

Her outreach work is on behalf of the Rubinstein-Taybi Family Research Organization, a group dedicated to finding a cure for RTS. The fund has raised more than $300,000 to support research efforts by Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize winner who works at Columbia University.

Donnie`s condition is caused by a mutation to a gene that encodes for a binding protein. The result is that the gene is under-expressed, or "turned off.`` That protein is known to play a role in memory and learning.

"I want to achieve a larger title, so I can let the rest of the United States know there are rare diseases out there,`` Hunt said.

For Hunt, representing herself as Mrs. Michigan gives her an instant audience that has already included the governor and various groups. Last week, she and her husband, Don, attended an awards event in Washington, staged by the National Organization for Rare Disorders.

As she spoke of her cause, Donnie entered the room with a Spiderman toy, energetic and ready to greet visitors.

"He`s our bundle of joy,`` said Don, his father.

Those who have helped to prepare Hunt for her next big moment praise her determination and outgoing personality.

She`s kind but has an edge to her, said Don, who met Hunt about 10 years ago. "She blew me away,`` he said.

Fitness trainer Mike Mauney, who has worked with several pageant competitors in preparation for the swimsuit competition, said his connection with Hunt was instant.

"The minute she walked through the door, it`s like she`s known me forever,`` Mauney said. "There`s no warming-up period. She`s herself right from the beginning.``

Hunt said she weighed more than 200 pounds when she began training. Mauney`s program involved improved nutrition plus fitness and cardio routines.

Hunt also worked with Dave Dausey, a pageant consultant based in Marquette who coaches competitors in interviewing and attitude.

"She`s a joy to be around ...`` Dausey said. "She looks at things most people would consider struggles or problems and sees them as opportunities.``

Stephanie Hunt

Age: 43.

Recent title: Won the Mrs. Michigan United States Pageant and will compete for the national crown in Las Vegas in July.

Hometown: Flint.

College: Bachelor`s degree from Western Michigan University.

Family: Husband, Don; two grown sons, Adam and Andy; younger sons Jordan, 12, and Donnie, 4.

Occupation: Flight attendant for Northwest Airlines.

Platform: Spokeswoman for the National Organization for Rare Disorders. Her son, Donnie, has Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome, a condition that involves a specific pattern of physical features and developmental disabilities.

Hobbies: Collecting antique jewelry.

Quote: "She often talks about issues she had in the past with weight ... and the challenges her son has presented and what a joy he is. You really get a feel for her heart.`` - Dave Dausey, beauty pageant consultant.

© 2007 Michigan Live

Author: BY Geoff Larcom
Source: Michigan Live
1.2 from 4 votes
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