Forever Changed by a Crown and an Insulin Pump
Dr. Nicole Johnson, Master of Arts in Journalism, ‘98
Miss America ’99 & Vice President at the American Diabetes Association (ADA)
While winning Miss America ‘99 was only the beginning of her crowning achievements, Dr. Nicole Johnson can testify that God is one to flip the script despite all other voices saying there’s no hope. Diagnosed with diabetes at age 19, it was easy for lies to creep into her mind that God abandoned her and this disease would be a life-long setback. On the contrary, God grabbed His pen and, as the perfect author, wrote a beautiful story of triumph, favor, and blessings for Nicole’s life.
NICOLE’S “BUT GOD” STORY
With a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes came not just a new lifestyle but also the dark side of the disease. Anxiety and depression, along with voices of discouragement, came rushing toward Nicole during the crucial stage of life, that is, young adulthood. Although her faith was an integral part of her life, it was hard to believe God was actually near.
In the midst of this valley experience, she heard about a local revival service and decided to go. As she sat in her seat, still emotionally closed off, the speaker stopped in the middle of his message. He points to Nicole and says, “Girl in the green sweater, come here.” She was shocked—Nicole had no clue who this speaker was. With shaking legs, she walked up to the front, where the speaker began to sense her feelings of God abandoning her but affirmed, “God is so close to you, so close that you can’t even see him.” Amongst the many life-changing declarations he made, the speaker said, “You are going to find favor with judges, for God finds favor with judges. You are going to do something you could never do, and it will be obvious that God did that.”
So, Nicole assumed she must be called to go to law school.
Thus, Regent University enters the scene. Nicole’s intent was to begin in Regent’s School of Communication and the Arts and then determine if she was a match of law school. She used her elective credits to take courses in the law school ultimately affirming her interest in law, but recognizing that was not God’s intended path for her. During the beginning of her academic career at Regent, a couple of friends dared her to participate in a Virginia local qualifying pageant in the Miss America Organization, and Nicole boldly decided to pursue it.
ONE CROWN CHANGED EVERYTHING
The verbiage “boldly” is far from hyperbolic, as this choice came with a return of those discouraging voices, this time more audibly. She received comments from others attempting to deter her from competing, claiming that she wouldn’t be able to win while wearing an insulin pump device and because she has type 1 diabetes. The enemy fought hard to tell her, “They won’t want you; there’s something wrong with you; you can’t handle it.”
But she held onto that still, small voice that told her she was born to triumph against all odds.
After winning Miss Virginia, she recounted her experience before stepping on stage for the Miss America competition. The Lord stopped her and said, “After tonight, life will never be the same.”
Moments later, she was crowned Miss America 1999.
She knew God had given her that crown and platform to use her personal experience to encourage others with diabetes that no matter what happens, “you are going to be okay.” Through the trials and emotions of the disease, there is hope to hold onto. Such a message was incredibly important to her, as she did not have many role models with type 1 diabetes to look up to when she was diagnosed.
True to God’s word, life was never the same after that. During her year as Miss America, she had the privilege of meeting with children and families impacted by diabetes, along with various healthcare professionals. This exposure opened her eyes and wooed her into the world of medicine and the psychosocial issues surrounding a diabetes diagnosis. During that year, her weekdays consisted of flying to various states for medical engagement and being hands-on in the healthcare world. Because she was so personally involved in service, her more “public” moments were sparse, and she often did not see the overall impact she was making. However, on her last day as Miss America, she was participating in the final parade in Atlantic City. On the side of the street, she noticed a crowd of children and adults waving their insulin pumps during the parade. The device that people once told Nicole she should be ashamed of is now being waved proudly by the next generation.
ROOTED IN IMPACTFUL EDUCATION
A large part of being Miss America is continued advocacy for the cause one represents. Being an advocate for a medical-related cause meant Nicole faced many questions and pressures about some of the more divisive topics in the political, bioethics, and medical fields—such as stem cell research. For such topics, Nicole found great counsel from Regent University’s late founder, Dr. M. G. “Pat” Robertson. She shared how the multiple phone calls with Dr. Robertson throughout her term as Miss America were affirming to her faith, for he helped her navigate how to approach conversations that went against her faith convictions.
On top of her fond memories with Regent’s founder, various other memories during her time at Regent stick with her to this day. The Dean of the School of Communication and the Arts at that time personally poured into Nicole as she pursued her M.A. in Journalism. She shared that she will never forget when one of her communications professors, Michael Patrick, once told her, “You have very good news judgment.” After over 20 years of professional experience, that compliment still rings in her heart as an encouragement of her ability, even on her most discouraging days. Because of the impact those words had on her personal life and career, she now makes active efforts to express compliments and confidence to her younger employees.
“The communications foundation I gathered at Regent was super important. It set the stage for me to understand how to interact with audiences, other colleagues and professionals, and how to write,” Nicole expressed while recounting her experience hosting a television show for five years and her other health journalism experiences.
A HOPE AND A FUTURE
Now, as Nicole serves as the Vice President of Operations at the American Diabetes Association, she continues to hold onto her message that God is near, even in the midst of the hard moments in life. She never wants to give the impression that because she got a word from God about pageantry, that her life was easy. On the contrary, the enemy has tried to steal, kill, and destroy at each stage of her life. But what the enemy means for evil, God turns for good. God opened so many doors for Nicole throughout her life. He continues to use her in the world of medical research and leadership to shine His light and sow into a new generation of people who are confident the Lord is near.