Photo above: Kristi Becker is the reigning Mrs. Beaufort County America. Photo provided.
By Aileen Goldstein
As with all military wives and mothers, Kristi Becker is busy.
She, however, wears the hat — make that sash — of the reigning Mrs. Beaufort County America.
Becker manages to balance life as a mother of two children and wife to a drill sergeant on Parris Island along with her duties as Mrs. Beaufort County.
On any given day, Becker can be found speaking at an event or participating in a community event such as Wreaths across America, helping to lay more than 8,000 wreaths at the National Cemetery to honor veterans.
What you can’t see when you look at Becker is her disease.
Becker is one of an estimated 2.3 million people worldwide who live with multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis, also known as MS, is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. It is often unpredictable and possibly disabling. Becker was officially diagnosed with the disease in October 2014.
Her diagnosis, like many, started with symptoms like tingling and numbness in her arm. Doctors thought she likely had a pinched nerve in her neck.
“I was a veterinary assistant, so they thought I tweaked something in my neck or my upper back. Come to find out, I had a lesion on my neck,” she said.
The lesion, common in MS patients, is actually a scar that results when the patient’s overactive immune response damages the fatty protein layer, known as myelin, that insulates the spinal cord. Lesions are also found in the brains of patients, visible through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
After her diagnosis, Becker said she gave up on herself and allowed the MS to take over her life. She finally decided she needed to do something for herself to help her move past her devastating diagnosis. That was when she looked into pageants.
“It was the first thing I was able to go out and say I was going to focus and conquer, and I did. It was amazing, the best feeling in the world,” she said as she flashes a beautiful smile.
She won the title and went on to compete in the Mrs. South Carolina, in which she came in as fourth runner-up.
Becker has used her MS as a platform while competing in her pageants and often speaks on the subject.
“When people hear MS, they think of wheelchairs and death, so I like to talk about it and tell my story so people understand,” she said.
Along with speaking, Becker also fundraises to support research into cures for MS. Currently, there is no FDA-approved cure for the disease, and patients can only take medications to slow the progress of the disease and prevent flare-ups.
Becker said her first fundraiser after being diagnosed was Walk MS, a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Becker also supports promising research in stem cell therapy as a treatment of MS.
Above all, she wants to inspire others.
“I really want to empower those that have silent diseases or situations that make it hard at times. You can keep going forward and follow your dreams. Keep pushing forward,” she said.
Becker said one of the hardest things about MS is the fact that it is a silent disease and those who have it suffer alone because a lot of symptoms are not visible.
“People don’t see that you’re tired or you have blurry vision or are having trouble swallowing,” she explains.
The other thing that keeps Becker going is her children.
Her daughter, Kaitlynn, especially finds it thrilling that her mom is Mrs. Beaufort County.
“She is ecstatic, which is an amazing feeling,” said Becker. “You don’t realize how much of a role model you are to your children.”
Becker hopes to continue her reign as Mrs. Beaufort County and compete again in the fall for Mrs. South Carolina. Most important, though, she wants to inspire others.
“If I am able to encourage and empower somebody, then I can say the MS is worth it.”