CONCORD — In her reign as Ms. America, Stephanie Mills, a doctor of chiropractic, aims to shed light on the severity of concussions, something she deals with both in her professional life as a chiropractor and at home as a mom.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to use the title to help promote concussion awareness,” Mills said.
Mills, 37, of Concord, was crowned the 2014 Ms. America on Saturday at the annual pageant in Brea, Calif. The competition is open to women ages 26 to 60 who are single, married, divorced or widowed.
“Most pageants…for adult women are ‘Mrs.’ pageants, where you need to be married,” said Mills, a mother of two daughters, who is divorced. “This [pageant] is celebrating the achievements and accomplishments of all women, no matter what your marital status, or if you have kids or not.”
Mills has been competing in pageants for 25 years. In 1995, she won the Miss New Hampshire pageant at the age of 18 and went on to compete in Miss America (which is not affiliated with Ms. America). Mills was able to finance her entire undergraduate education with the scholarship she won.
This year was Mills’ fourth competing in the Ms. America pageant. She had placed third runner-up twice and second runner-up once.
The pageant has four phases of competition: an interview, physical fitness and sportswear, evening gown, and an on-stage question. All segments are weighted equally in the final scoring.
“It’s a great opportunity to meet women from all over the country, to have time to yourself and spend time reflecting on what’s really important to you,” Mills said of competing in Ms. America. “It’s a little bit of an escape from reality. And it is a competition, so it does satisfy that need to compete.”
Mills was pleasantly surprised when her name was called as the winner.
“Having lost three years in row, it was definitely a shock,” she said.
Mills’ platform — a cause that contestants in pageants represent and raise awareness for — was concussion awareness. This past March, one of her daughters, Brooke, sustained a concussion in physical education class and struggled in school as a result.
“It was quite an eye-opening experience, as a parent, to see a concussion firsthand and see the healing time, but also how other adults interact with a concussion situation,” she said. “Some teachers were understanding; some weren’t so understanding. There was a push from the school for her to get back to academics, even though she wasn’t necessarily ready.”
Mills has partnered with the Brain Injury Association of America to help raise awareness for concussions. Last month, she hosted a Bowling for Brain Injury event in Concord to raise funds for a pilot program through the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire. The program will put neuropsychologists into 10 schools around the state to educate faculty about making accommodations for concussed students, and working with healing concussed students.
As Ms. America, Mills will spend the next year traveling around the country, attending red carpet events in California, making public appearances and speaking about concussion awareness.
She has been invited to attend a charity event in Los Angeles after the Emmy Awards hosted by actor Jamie Foxx, and on Sept. 28, Mills will participate in BIANH’s Walk By The Sea at Hampton Beach. A publisher also approached Mills while she was in California about contributing to a new book coming out about concussions.
Mills also helps patients with concussions heal through her two practices, Crossroads Chiropractic in Pembroke and Crossroads Chiropractic Lakeside in Meredith.
“I’ve seen the correlation between kids who have had concussions and being under chiropractic care, and having relief from some of their symptoms — the headaches, the brain fog … the tiredness that comes along with concussions,” Mills said, though she stressed every case is individual. “Whether research is showing it or not, I really see it in my practice, and I saw it with my daughter when I adjusted her during her concussion.”
Mills said that chiropractors look for and fix subluxations, or vertebrae that have shifted, which they realign with their hands.
“When you’ve had a concussion, that means you’ve had an impact of some sort to your body,” she said. “You could’ve misaligned a vertebra [during the concussion].”
To book Mills for an appearance, visit msamericapageant.com.