I am a truly content and happy person. I embrace life’s challenges. I treasure the small moments with my family, friends, and especially my little boy. I am always looking for opportunities to better myself, even in the smallest ways. But I wasn’t always like that. I wasn’t always happy with my life. I didn’t always treasure the moments. I didn’t always accept that challenge. I didn’t always put myself out there for others to see. I have always been a confident person; I know my strengths. But there was a time in my life where I was too scared of failing and too scared of my weaknesses to really come into my own.
Deciding to compete at Mrs. Ohio was a huge turning point in my thinking. I had debated competing for several years, but I was worried about how my decision would be perceived by others. Would my family think I was crazy? I’m a grown woman! Would my friends understand? I am a lawyer! How would I feel if other lawyers knew I entered a pageant? Would it affect my credibility when I represent my clients? What if I don’t place? What if I don’t look ready? What will people think?
At the forefront of this post, I want to come out and state the obvious. Being fearful of other people’s opinions is simply no way to live. And who are we really fearful of not pleasing? Family and true friends will understand the need to do something special and outside your comfort zone. For the others, well, they aren’t worth our precious time anyway. And for colleagues and adversaries, well…I’ve stood on stage in a swimsuit with thousands watching me. Go ahead. Underestimate me…
I remember the first time a really thought about competing at Mrs. Ohio. I was sitting in my office in a job I wasn’t loving. I was about thirty pounds heavier than my normal weight from the transition from law school to desk job, and my husband Jason had just proposed. With a wedding on my mind and my mind in a funk, I knew it was time to make some major changes. And that is where it all began…
I pulled up the Mrs. Ohio America website, and staring back at me was a photo of the gorgeous Kimberly Miller. With a little web searching, I found some photos from the previous competition. To say I was intimidated was an understatement. Staring back at me were some of the most beautiful married women I had ever seen. They were fit, toned, and many of them, MOTHERS! Maybe this could be my goal…
The pageant was held in January that year, so I decided to attend. I remember watching these incredible women walk out on to stage. They just took my breath away. That year, the incredible Melanie Miller captured the crown. However, there were two future Mrs. Ohio’s on that stage as well – Deanna Holliday and Teri Grothaus. I left the pageant convinced that some day, some time and some place down the road, I was going to get the courage to do this. That’s the thing about pageantry. The courage to compete is half the barrier to success, and the belief that you are capable of succeeding is the other half.
Flash forward three months later, and I left that job, ordered myself a fitness video, and I started changing my life. It was a tough year that required some tough changes. By the time the year was over, however, I was down twenty of those thirty pounds, married to my husband, and tackling the large learning curve of solo law practice. I had to take a second job teaching at night to help cover my loans and my bills, but I had never been happier. A few months later, I got an offer to join a firm looking to expand into my practice areas, and I found out I was pregnant with my son Jacob.
That next year was engulfed with newness. At the law firm, I identified an area of practice that I believed would be a logical extension to our current areas. I took on the daunting task of teaching myself that area. I was still teaching five days a week to supplement my income. I was also pregnant, and well, pregnancy is really hard. There are some women that just glow! They gain twenty pounds, carry no extra water, and feel amazing. I am not one of these people. I got so big and so swollen, I had to RENT pregnancy business suits for my last three court appearances.
With all that being said, on Valentine’s Day 2013, I had my son Jacob. He was so perfect and beautiful. As I was sitting in the hospital recovering from my C-section and staring at this miracle, I began to have a new respect for my body and its capabilities. Despite still weighing over two-hundred pounds, I knew then that I owed it to myself to take better care, to nourish myself properly, and to set a personal goal.
I attended Mrs. Ohio 2013 and watched Teri Grothaus capture her crown. This time, however, I didn’t go just to watch. I went to take notes. My best friend Kevin went with me, and together we broke down the competition into its different phases. With forty pounds still to go to be at my normal weight, I was determined to be standing on that stage the next year.
I spent the year finding ways to include fitness into my everyday life. I found a gym closer to my office, and I began incorporating three workouts a week before I had to pick Jake up from daycare. As I got closer to competition, I added two more on weekends when Jason could watch him. I bought a book of interview questions, and I completed ten questions a week. As I reviewed a question, I wrote down my answer. I didn’t want to memorize, I just retain information better if I write it down.
I only told my very best friends that I was competing. I think part of me was still trying to overcome that last barrier – the belief that I was capable of succeeding. So much of pageantry is a mental game. I placed in that top three – second runner-up.
Right after the pageant, I re-evaluated. I knew I wanted to finish this journey. I dug further into my goals, and I worked on what was perhaps the most important part of puzzle – embracing myself and who I was meant to be. I began to publicly state my goals – I was going back to Mrs. Ohio one more time. This was HUGE for me. In a pageant, the probability is that you will NOT succeed. There is only one winner. But I didn’t let the fear of failing stop me. The truth is, a person of character never really fails. They win or they learn. Either way, you are changed for the better.
This time, I was fortunate enough to accomplish my goal.
From that point forward, I haven’t looked back. I quit caring about the chatter of other people. I started finding my passions and pursuing them without fear. As a result, I am more confident and successful in my personal AND my professional life. And quite frankly, I am happier than I ever thought I could be.
I am now at the end of my reign as Mrs. Ohio. I will treasure this precious year and all it has taught me. I am also expecting my second baby! I am still tacking new challenges and embracing life’s twists and turns. I expect I will continue to do so with passion.
Was it the decision to compete in Mrs. Ohio that changed my path? Not exactly. It was the willingness to let go of the fear of failing and the fear of judgment. Whether your interest is a pageant, a marathon, a dance class, a crossfit competition, a new hobby, a new fitness journey, or something else, I CHALLENGE YOU to go for it. Embrace the possibility of failing. It may change your life. It did mine.
There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky, and you ask “What if I fall?” “Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson
Ashley, Mrs. Ohio 2015