Coming Back...

As my magical weekend came to an end, I began the process of removing my hair extensions and scrubbing off the pretty makeup.  As I washed my face I was reminded of last year when I was a runner up and how I felt about being so close to the crown yet coming up short. 

Shortly after she won, Shaylyn Ford whispered into my ear, “are you coming back?” I said, “maybe.” She then said, “you better.”  I am giving all of you the same advice.

Losing isn’t easy.  In the week after the 2014 Mrs. Ohio pageant, I felt a plethora of emotions.  I replayed my interview in my head.  I reviewed all my mistakes, and I ate a lot of chocolate.  However, by the next week, I knew I couldn’t end my quest for the crown just yet.  I just wasn’t finished.  I’ve wanted to compete at Mrs. America since I was eleven years old.  Having been so close, I knew I had to go after it one more time.  I spent the year meticulously working toward this goal every day, as follows.


(1)    I bought the video of the 2014 pageant.  As hard as it was to lose, it might have been harder to watch it over and over again.  However, the first thing I had to do was learn to accept it and figure out what to do to change it.   

Though I did not realize it at the time, there was so much I had yet to learn.  For one, this pageant rewards a natural, approachable glamour.  When I got the video of the 2014 pageant, I noticed my hair was just a little “too big.”  My makeup was also a little too dark, and my uncomfortable five inch heels caused me to bounce when I walked.  These were all easy changes.  I sold the shoes and bought a pair that made my feet feel more secure.  I got my hair out of my face (though you ladies know this last weekend was not my best hair day anyway), and I painstakingly practiced new makeup techniques until I found a style that showed off my natural bone structure without looking overdone from the judges’ seats. In sum, instead of trying to look like what I thought the judges wanted, I decided instead to just look like Ashley Starling.

(2)    I went to Mrs. America.  This was such a treat for me.  I was instantly captivated by Shaylyn, so I was so excited to support her at Mrs. America.  I got dressed up, I yelled, I screamed, and I had fun.  Shaylyn’s husband Greg is awesome, my husband Jason and I had the greatest time with him cheering Shaylyn on.  This is a sisterhood.  The women are supportive of each other.  They are all different.  They are all diverse.  I enjoyed seeing their evening gown choices and their hairstyles.  In order to get to where you want to go, you need to learn from those that have been there. 

(3)    I listened to the judge’s comments and suggestions.  The judges gave me very powerful comments last year.  Overall, it was clear my interview was my strongest and my swimsuit was my weakest.  I wrote the comments down, and I used them as a guideline on how to approach the next pageant.  

(4)    I made a timeline on how to prepare.  This time, instead of working equally on each area of the competition, I started with the weakest – swimsuit.  I hired Aron Layman, a personal trainer and nutrition expert, in August 2014.  I remember my first meeting with him.  He had requested data on my dietary habits.  Luckily for him I love data, so I was able to make him charts and graphs from MyFitnessPal tracking my calorie intake on a daily basis, and the amount of carbs, protein, and fats I was eating on a daily basis.  When I sat down with him for the first time, I expected that he would put me on these mini meals to help maximize my metabolism.  However, the first thing out of his mouth was, “Girl, you have start eating.” And that’s what I did.  He crafted very specific diet metrics for me, and I stuck with them. 

I spent five months in a “build phase,” lifting weights 3 to 5 days a week.  I had to eat real food and increase my calorie intake so I could build muscle.  I put on weight, both muscle and body fat, during this phase.  This was hard for me.  I had always tried to diet by just cutting calories, but that was the wrong way to get fit!  It wasn’t easy, and I was scared.  However, Aron reassured me that this was necessary to obtain the results I was looking for. 

I then spent four more months in a “cut phase,” continuing to lift weights hard 5 days a week, but reducing my calorie intake so that I burned off the body fat I had gained in my ”build phase” while keeping my muscle and its toned look.  I hit plateaus, but I kept with it.  On pageant day, I walked on the stage two pounds heavier than the year before due to my increased muscle mass, but a full size smaller due to my much lower body fat percentage.  I am by no means perfect. I have a ton of work to do before Mrs. America in all areas of competition.  However, for the first time in my life, I am not on what most people think of as a “diet.”

In December, I went shoe shopping.  I ultimately decided against $100 pageant heels.  I found my favorite taupe pumps in a sandal form.  They were $30.00.  I bought nonslip pads for the bottoms, and I began practicing in my bedroom.  I practiced twice a week for months.  I would walk to with my sarong, and I would practice evening gown in a maxi dress. 

In January, I filled out my paperwork.  This time I was very deliberate on what I wrote and how I wanted to express it to the judges, down to the exact word choice and concise sentences that made the points I needed.  I wanted to be Mrs. Ohio, and I wanted the judges to ask me why.  I wanted to tell my stories.  So this year I put it directly on my bio, “my dream of becoming the next Mrs. Ohio began twenty years ago.”  It worked.  I spent half my interview time talking about why I wanted to be Mrs. Ohio, why it was my year, and what I would do if I had this incredible opportunity.

In March, I pulled out my paperwork.  I made sure I could answer the “who, what, where, and why” from the bio.  I also bought a book of interview questions.  Over the course of many months, I practiced and practiced.  I did some stream of consciousness writing, and I made sure that if asked a question, I could come up with an answer in less than ten seconds.  I didn’t want to memorize, I just didn’t want to get stuck and lose precious time. 

In April, I attended the ready rally and tested myself.  I got amazing feedback, and I used that feedback to make me better.  I then met with Mrs. Ohio 2013 Teri Grothaus in May.  I spent two hours with her asking questions and polishing things.  It was the best money I spent all year.  I strongly urge you to spend time with her.  She brings a wealth of experience and knowledge. 

Last, I prepared for the logistics of the pageant.  I tried to plan for every contingency.  I made a list well in advance for what I would need for pageant week and it’s a good thing I did! I prepared for the worst and boy I got it!  From laryngitis, to needing an extra copy of my bio, to bad hair, I had a ton of problems.  I nearly had a meltdown before it was all over.  I am very thankful for the beautiful contestants that took a few minutes to help me.

When I was back stage with my husband after being called into the top 5, I told him, I knew I had given it everything I had this year within my time constraints and schedule.  I wasn’t sure it would be enough.  There were 20 AMAZING women competing with me.  In the end, it was enough.   Nobody was more shocked than me, but I hope that sharing my journey will inspire you to finish yours.  I also hope that it reveals just how much this title means to me and just how much I will cherish this reign.

As my dad once told me, “the will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.”  And, make no mistake, I will be prepared for Mrs. America.

Your new Mrs. Ohio 2015,

Ashley