By: Bobbi Dempsey
Nicole Johnson doesn’t know how to takeit easy. An admitted type A personality,Johnson—who enjoyed the national spotlightas Miss America 1999—serves as a consultantor spokesperson for about a dozen differentorganizations.
She also travels around the world to educatepeople about diabetes and is currently pursuingher second master’s degree in public health.In addition, she has written several books andspends several days a month lobbying on CapitolHill in Washington, D.C.
And, oh yeah, the newlywed is still adjusting toa household with a husband—news anchor ScottBaker—three step-kids and a new puppy.
A Decade of Diabetes
Although Nicole rarely gets a moment to breathe,she wouldn’t have it any other way. Havingsurvived a medical roller coaster ride that begana decade ago, she’s just glad she’s now healthyenough to handle her busy life.
For Nicole, the problems began in her late teens.After she was misdiagnosed three times withflu-like symptoms, doctors suspected diabetes—adiagnosis that was eventually confirmed when shewas 19.
Nicole wasn’t very familiar with diabetes, andwhat she first heard wasn’t very uplifting.“A lot of people at the hospital were prettydiscouraging. They told me I’d never graduatefrom college, that I’d be wasting my timepursuing my career dreams, because I’d never beable to handle a demanding career with diabetes.”Fortunately, Nicole was born with a strongstubborn streak.
“I’m the type of person who, when someone tellsme I can’t do something, that just makes me evenmore determined to do it.”
Becoming a Part of the Army’ to Fight Diabetes
Still, Nicole admits there was a rough adjustmentperiod.
“You’re just sailing along, a carefree college kidon top of the world, and all of a sudden, Wham! Itwas pretty shocking, and I did go through denialand depression for quite a while.”
Eventually, she emerged from her funkdetermined “to become part of the army to fightthis disease.”
Not by coincidence, she first got involved withpageants around the same time.
“With this disease inside me attacking my bodyand making me feel worthless, I guess ina way I was proving to myself that I wasn’treally damaged goods; that I could actuallyaccomplish great things.”
But it was no easy feat. At one point,pageant officials encouraged her to dropout of the competition because of hercondition. But she had other plans.
In 1997, she finished in the top 10 of theMiss Virginia pageant. The next year, shewound up taking the crown and the nextstep toward Miss America.
Not Your Typical Miss America
Soon she went on to achieve her ultimategoal, capturing the Miss America 1999title.
But Nicole was never your typical beauty queen. She rarelywore the crown and wasn’t a big fan of riding on paradefloats with a perpetual smile plastered on her face. To her,that kind of stuff wasn’t important.
She was more focused on using her time in the spotlight toinform and educate people worldwide about the dangers ofdiabetes.
Nicole, who has always been a big fan of the insulin pump,helped publicize the device, often appearing at functionswith her insulin pump clearly visible.Today, she wears an Animas pump.
A Fixture in Washington, D.C.
Nicole, who dedicates her life todiabetes-related causes, spends at least30 percent of her time in Washington,D.C., lobbying Congress on behalfof diabetes issues. In addition, shealso works with state legislaturesto improve insurance coverage andgeneral health care for the millions ofpeople with diabetes.
One of Nicole’s favorite projects rightnow is working with children withdiabetes in schools. She is workingto improve the situation for thosechildren both on the state and national level. Her goal isto end the discrimination against kids with diabetes inthe school environment by allowing them to manage theirblood glucose and become responsible adults.
Nicole also works as a consultant with numerous groups,including the Georgetown University Medical Center andthe American Diabetes Association. She writes a monthlydiabetes lifestyle article for Georgetown’s “My Care Team”Web program, which can be found on her Web site (www.nicolejohnson.com).
Raising Millions for Diabetes Research
Research is another of Nicole’s pet projects. She’s helpedraise millions of dollars over the past few years for diabetesresearch and predicts great strides in the area of diabetesdiagnosis and treatment.
Among other things, she envisions a more patient-friendlyglucose-sensing device.
“I hope that when I mark my 20-year anniversary of livingwith diabetes—less than 10 years from now—I’ll be wearinga noninvasive device that involves no more fingersticking.”
A Successful Author and Health Nut
In addition to her autobiography, Nicole has written twocookbooks. She follows a diet that she basically made upherself, and admits her biggest challenge is getting enoughprotein.
“It’s much better to take a slow, steady approach to nutritionand fitness. With exercise, my advice is to move more everyday. Even if you can only do a little each day, do it. If youwait for everything to be perfect, that day will never come.”
Nicole says she exercises anywhere she can.“Many timesyou can find me speed-walking in airports, pacing shoppingmalls or running in hotel stairwells.” Especially now, withthree children, Nicole is finding exercise more challenging.She says it is all about “innovative incorporation ofmovement,” which is why she is in talks to write a bookabout exercise in the next year.
What the Future Holds
Nicole—who holds a master’s degree in journalism—iscurrently pursuing another master’s in public health.Eventually, she plans to start a communications firm,enlisting the help of her husband, Scott Baker, a newsanchor.
But she adds that she will always continue to focus ondiabetes education and outreach.
“We need more programs that are culturally appropriateand meet people where they are in life with diabetes,” saysNicole. “Education is only effective if the person on thereceiving end gets it and sees it as useful. There is no one-size-fits-all’ approach. Clearly with the trends in diabetesand obesity, we need more people thinking creatively abouthow to address the problem. I hope, as my career continuesto grow and expand, that I will be one of those people.”
The passion for diabetes education has led Nicole toestablish a partnership with Eli Lilly and Company as thechairperson of the Lilly Partnership in Diabetes program.Because of her interest in and reliance on nutrition andexercise, Nicole has also agreed to be an advocate, alongwith GNC, in educating the community about preventionand healthy living. She is currently advising GNC on theprevention and disease section of their more than 6,000stores.
For more information about Nicole, visit her Web site atwww.nicolejohnson.com.