By MATT CRANE
Mississippi State University student Sagen Gunnoe was crowned the 2013 Mrs. Mississippi America on Nov. 11 at the Millennium Theater inside the Goldstrike Casino Resort in Tunica.
Gunnoe, a second-year veterinary student at MSU, came to Starkville in 2007 with her husband Lacy to pursue her dream of working with animals.
“I was finishing up my biology degree at the Mississippi University for Women and always dreamed of attending veterinary school. I knew MSU had one of the best,” she said. “I dedicated all of my time to building my resume, volunteering in animal clinics and working for free in Columbus, Starkville and Birmingham, Ala. in hope of having a shot at attending MSU-CVM.”
Gunnoe said one reason she entered the pageant was to share her story of the struggles she faced living with severe Scoliosis and undergoing intense surgeries.
“It took me six months in a hospital bed in my parents’s living room to learn to walk, eat and hold my head up on my own all over again,” she said. “I’m left with almost two feet of titanium and in steel in my spine, but more importantly, that experience left me with the will to not just survive, but to thrive.”
Dealing with issues of self-esteem and wanting to fit in with the girls around her, Gunnoe said she finally realized she would not be defined by her struggles or allow them from keeping her from reaching her full potential.
“It took me a while, but I finally realized that my experiences make me unique and special — I didn’t want to be like everyone else after all,” she said. “I entered the pageant to inspire other young women to believe in themselves — no matter how different they thing they may be — and to follow their dreams.”
Mrs. Mississippi America Executive Director Delayna Bridges said the pageant’s goal is to recognize the accomplishments and triumphs of married women across the country.
“Once some women get married, they put thing on the back burner and forget about taking care of themselves, and they don’t get the recognition they deserve for the jobs they do as women,” she said. “It’s a tough balancing act, and in this pageant, we want to recognize women who do that and do it well.”
Gunnoe said she entered the competition weekend with an open heart and an open mind embracing the joy of simply participating.
“My mind was on having fund and honoring God, so I think that definitely took some of the competitive pressure off of me because I knew, regardless of the outcome, I would be proud of myself,” she said.
“Pageantry used to embody a lot of anxiety and stress for me. I focused so much on trying to be perfect that I totally lost sight of who I was and what I had to be thankful for.”
Gunnoe said her realization of the illusion of perfection made her begin to embrace her own flaws.
“This experience was incredibly humbling for me,” she said. “I still have a hard time seeing what other people see in me, so to be chose to represent our great state is an absolute honor.”
Shocked at her own victory, Gunnoe said the world seemed to freeze at the upon the sound the hearing her name called.
“I felt so humbled and undeserving,” she said. “Each lady that competed with is so special in her own way, and I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to have met them.”
While her attention will now turn back to working hard at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, Gunnoe said she is looking forward to competing on the national level next year.
“I will compete in the Mrs. America Pageant in Tucson, Ariz. Aug. 20-28 alongside 50 other passionate and driven women,” she said. “No matter how it turns out, I will do my very best to represent all the sweet Southern ladies and gentlemen from the great state of Mississippi.”