RUTLAND- Pageants are not primarily about beauty, like most
people think- at least not all pageants are for all people, Janelle
Howard explains. "It's not about getting the crown that matters,
it's what you do with it."
Howard, a Rutland resident, was crowned Ms. Royal America on April
29 at the National competition in Connecticut, beating out 40
competitors from across the country.
Howard is not the typical beauty queen stereotype, she is indeed
beautiful, but that did not motivate her to walk the runway. In
fact, after a brief stint in high school, she left the world of
pageantry, and it wasn't until she needed a platform that would
give her a greater voice to educate that she revisited the stage.
Education and community service are the fuel that drives her to the
After graduating from Rutland High School she moved to Arizona
where she was a racecar driver, among other career pursuits. "I had
a good jobs in Arizona, but my entire family has retired back here
and I have a 12-year-old brother who I barely knew," she said of
her move to back Vermont last year. "As I approached 30, I realized
I wanted to settle down closer to family… and I wanted to be closer
to my brother, and eventually raise a family of my own."
But shortly after she moved back, she started to feel sick, really
sick. "It got to the point where I simply couldn't stay awake; I
couldn't even get out of bed at all, and I'm usually a very
energetic person," she said.
The fatigue and aching was caused by a small bite that she assumed
was either a mosquito or a spider bite. After showing her mom and
going to the doctor, she learned had been bitten by a tick and that
she had contracted Lyme disease.
"I waited until the definitive bull's-eye rash had almost
disappeared completely before going to the doctor," Howard said.
"But if you catch it quick enough you can take antibiotics and the
symptoms may never materialize, or if they do they can be treated
again with antibiotics. I'm extremely lucky to be in remission… it
kind of feels like the flu at first, so every time I start to feel
sick I wonder if I'm just sick or if the Lyme has resurfaced and I
should go back on antibiotics. I live in fear and I just don't want
others to experience this."
Wearing tall socks and tight clothing, putting blankets down on
the grass, and (most importantly) checking yourself for ticks
frequently, are the best ways to prevent getting Lyme. "The tall
tell sign is the rash," Howard says, but she recommends not waiting
to see a doctor, "let the doctor make the determination if you
should go on antibiotics or not. If you're bit don't take
Lyme disease in Vermont and nationwide is worse than ever this
year. "They are close to calling Lyme disease an epidemic; there
have been more than 16000 new cases," says Howard. "And the scary
thing is anyone can get it any time and there is no definitive test
for it and it never goes away," she says.
Howard didn't know much about Lyme disease until she contracted
it. "My whole purpose was to get a voice so that I could talk to
people about this disease and help educate folks so they know to
get treatment right away," she said. "That is what drove me back
There are two main branches in the pageant world, Howard explains,
The Miss USA circuit and the Miss America circuit, which include
many divisions of Teen, Mrs. and Ms. depending on age and marriage
status. The Miss USA contingent is owned by Donald Trump, and is
focused primarily on beauty. "The girls have to be really really
gorgeous and able to handle modeling jobs," Howard says. There is a
talent and service portion too, but it is subsidiary. The Miss
America pageant, however, is primarily driven by community service
and being a good roll model.
"In between these two big systems you have all the other pageant
systems which can really be whatever the pageant director wants
them to be," says Howard. Explaining that many of these smaller
pageant circuits feed into one of the two larger ones. "Ms. Royal
America is most similar to Miss America, but Miss America ages out
at 26, so if you're older that that you can't compete," she said.
"These pageants don't have categories like most beautiful or best
smile or any of those silly little things, it's really about being
a role model and a good example in your community."
The prefix "Ms." means that it's open to girls age 18-39, who can
be single, married, divorced, with or without kids, she
Most of the ladies Howard competed against have been in pageants
since they were toddlers and have collected a lot of crowns. "A lot
of the girls there have been doing this since they were 4-5 years
old which is really intimidating because the entire thing lasts a
weekend," she said. "Talking to them they would say 'this will be
my 47th title, if I win'" she said.
"I'm not the skinniest girl, I haven't had pageant experience
since I was 2, I don't have a pageant coach and I don't have
professional photos. I knew there were a lot of obstacles stacked
up against me, but I also knew that if I could do it wouldn't it be
cool to show my little brother what's possible… I think the judges
saw that I really wanted to do something with the title and give
back to the community and not just collect another crown," said
"As a former Miss Vermont Teen Queen I was invited to participate
in the Ms. New England pageant on March 25, 2012," she said. She
won the talent portion and placed second in the photogenic portion,
which was disappointing, but it was good enough to propeller her to
Nationals where she won both the talent and photogenic
"My talent is jump roping," she said. "I know that sounds silly,
but I've been doing it since I was a kid… we use a single rope with
multiple unders and trick freestyle jumping."
Pageants require quite a bit of money, which Howard did not have,
so she started an aggressive fundraising campaign in Rutland and
was amazed by the community support she received.
Curves and Pyramid sponsored her gym memberships, Trace of Lace
let her borrow a gown for both New Englands and Nationals, and
countless people bought raffle tickets and came out to get their
"It was really this whole community that came together and helped
make this happen," she said. "The support I received from this
community was overwhelmingly generous, even folks that had nothing
to give wanted to give what they had. Everyone is struggling, but
the fact that people came out to get their car washed or buy raffle
tickets to support me was so encouraging. They don't do that in
other places, but they still do it in Vermont."
"What's it going to be," Howard is asking herself. "I've gone from
driving racecars to walking runways, so now what? I'm just going
through this 30-year-old 'what's my life about' stage, I
But she has a busy summer planned. First, she will be supporting
the MS walk at Rutland High School and the March of Dimes walk at
Mill River High School, both on May 12.
Then there is the Ms. U.S. of America contest in August. She won
Ms. Vermont U.S. of America earlier this year and looks forward to
competing for this national title, too. "Wouldn't it be crazy if I
won both of them? I'm trying not to think of that now, it terrifies
me," she said.
After the competition, she plans on speaking to students at local
middle schools, high schools and colleges about Lyme disease,
bullying and being a role model. "Seeing what the pageant world has
evolved to with shows like 'Toddlers and Tears' makes me want to
start a scholarship pageant of my own," says Howard. "Let's not
have little girls in make-up, but rather let's support girls who
want to be President and girls that want to give back to their
community… I don't know where to start, but I feel like I'm on the
CORRECTION: In last week's edition we inaccurately reported the
age requirements for the two main pageant branches: contestants for
Miss America are age 17 -24 and Miss USA are age 18-26. Also
neither of these main pageant branches have a 'Ms' divisions, nor
is Miss USA judged on talent. We apologize for this confusion.