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Lake Minnetonka Living,
September/October 2007

A Crowing Achievement

Mrs. Excelsior rallies for a drug-free world

By Kelly Westhoff

Natalie Hagemo isn't a typical beauty queen. She refuses to parade around in a swimsuit and she's slightly uncomfortable dolled up in evening wear. "I'm not a pageant girl," Hagemo said. "I was a tomboy growing up. I wear the same gray sweatpants everyday. My friends threaten to call What Not to Wear on me." Nevertheless, this 37-year-old wife and mother of three is the reigning Mrs. Excelsior.

Excelsior residents, including the mayor, were surprised to learn Mrs. Excelsior existed. The city hadn't held a pageant and no one could remember the last the time Excelsior was represented by a crown.

Hagemo's full title is actually Mrs. Excelsior International. She was awarded the position, not through a public pageant, but through an application process. The Mrs. International pageant system is designed to showcase married women with a strong, community service platform. Contestants are judged less on their appearance and more on their activism.

In March of 2008, Hagemo will compete in the Mrs. Minnesota International event. Should she win that title, she would move on to a truly international pageant and compete against women from around the globe.

"Fifty percent of the judging is a personal interview," Hagemo explained. "It's not, 'If you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?' They want to know what your platform is and how you are helping the community."

The remaining 50 percent of the selection process is evenly split between evening wear and physical fitness. "I'll have to wear aerobic wear, no bathing suit—that was a deal breaker for me. I've had three kids. I have stretch marks. Welcome to reality," she laughed.

"If I want to win, I'll have to get a little less jiggle out of my wiggle," she continued with a smile, admitting she works with a personal trainer. Yet she welcomes her new fitness routine for the extra energy it is helping her find. Being Mrs. Excelsior, she said, is exhausting.

That's because, since assuming her crown at the end of May, Hagemo has made nearly nonstop public appearances. She helped plan and promote the Lake Minnetonka Relay for Life, which raised money for cancer research. She was on the organizing committee for Excelsior's Girls Night Out events, attending each and every one in a visible way. She sold Excelsior maps and t-shirts at the city's 4th of July festival. When the I-35 bridge collapsed, she volunteered on the scene through the Red Cross.

While she acknowledged the importance of all these events, none of them are her baby. The cause most closely linked to Hagemo's heart—the one she supports through her title—is drug education. Her pageant platform is, "Say no to drugs. Say yes to life."

"I want to turn my crown into a microphone," Hagemo said. As a mother of teenagers, she continued, "I have a great interest in youth and drug prevention. I want to get kids educated so that when they're at a party and faced with a choice, they have the strength to walk away."

Hagemo bemoans media images of young, drug-involved Hollywood personalities. "Look at Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears, Paris Hilton. These are the examples our kids are seeing, and then we wonder why they think it's acceptable to drink," she said. "Parents have to get out of the mindset that teenage drinking or experimentation is okay. That it's just a teenage thing. Why are we excusing this?"

"Kids are smart. They won't listen if it's preach, preach, preach. But if you talk to them, if you communicate with them, it's surprising what they'll tell you," she continued. "If we give kids information, if we educate them about the long-term effects drugs have on their bodies, then they are empowered. Don't just tell them not to do it. Tell them why. Information gives them control."

By partnering with Foundation for a Drug Free America, Hagemo speaks to both civic groups and classrooms. She tells parents, teachers, students and anyone else within ear shot, exactly what it is that drugs do to a body. "Drugs deposit themselves in the fatty tissue throughout your body," she said. "They linger there and have a lasting effect for years to come."

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"Drugs shut down your senses and block your perceptions. They interfere with your ability to process information," she said. Many teens are aware of high-profile scandals that make front-page headlines like the Vikings' "love boat" scenario. Pointing out that alcohol and drugs were involved is a starting point, Hagemo said. One bad decision made while under the influence often leads to other poor choices, Hagemo stressed. As the mother of two daughters, she especially wants girls to understand how drug and alcohol use can lead to cases of sexual assault.

To learn more about Natalie Hagemo, to schedule and appearance or learn more about the Foundation for a Drug Free World, visit www.nataliehagemo.com.

This article appeared in the September/October 2007 issue of Lake Minnetonka Living.

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