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Beyond the Crown: Kelley Johnson

Kelley Johnson was crowned Miss California USA and awarded Top 10 at the 2018 Miss USA competition. Within this role, Kelley has modeled, hosted, and created content for both brand social media and television, and served as a community liaison for the Miss Universe Organization. Previously, she represented
the Miss Colorado Organization across the nation as Miss Colorado. Kelley competed for the title of Miss America 2016 and was awarded second runner up.

Kelley is remembered for her nursing monologue performance in 2015 that led to the famous “Doctor’s Stethoscope” comment and the #NursesUnite campaign. Kelley graduated summa cum laude from nursing school at Grand View University, where she was also valedictorian. She is a registered nurse and is also finishing doctorate school at the University of Denver, scheduled to graduate in 2020.

Her year as Miss Colorado included appearances on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Dr. Oz, The Doctors, E! News, Inside Edition, and various other television, radio, and speaking engagements across our country.

Currently, Kelley lives and works out of Los Angeles as the Chief Nurse Advocate for Wanderly, a travel nursing technology company. Kelley is also the national spokeswoman for Hurst Review, a nationwide NCLEX review service, and continues to host and emcee television shows and pageants across America.

When Kelley finally caught a break in her busy schedule, we connected in sunny Southern California to get personal and hear what’s on the horizon.

How did you get your start in pageants?
KJ: Miss Colorado was my very first pageant in 2015. Since then, I have done Miss America, Miss California USA, and Miss USA. I never grew up doing pageants, and I didn’t have any interest in anything that had to do with a pageant. When I won Miss Colorado, I had a dress from Craigslist, and ChapStick and mascara on my face. I competed specifically for scholarship money and was shocked and worried when I won. I thought to myself, “What just happened? How am I going to give up nursing for a year as a pageant girl? I didn’t even remember to bring a swimsuit! I am so screwed…” Then, after performing my monologue on TV for America, it turned out to be the incredible year that had everything to do with nursing, totally changed my life and sent me on the greatest media tour I could ever imagine.

How many years have you been participating in pageants?
KJ: I have only participated in four over three years.

Can you tell us more about your experience as Miss California USA 2018?
KJ: Absolutely! I think there is a large misconception about pageantry: the difference between the competition and the job of a titleholder. Yes, we all compete in the big gown, model the swimsuit, and answer some ridiculous questions in 30 seconds on stage. But that is just the competition. The JOB of a titleholder, the woman who actually wins, is the complete opposite. It doesn’t make much sense, right? The competition is for the fans and for television viewers, and the job is for the community and state. My job as Miss California USA is why I put up with the competition portion. I travel around the state visiting schools, veteran’s hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, children’s hospitals, fundraisers, 5Ks, galas, large corporate events, and service organizations. The job is a volunteer opportunity, yes, unpaid. We serve our communities and hope to be role models for the younger girls looking up to us who may want to compete someday. It is a TON of fun, and it has been the year of a lifetime.

Can you give us an example of a lesson you’ve learned that others might relate to?
KJ: As Miss California USA, the biggest challenge and struggle I had to overcome was removing someone really close to me from my life, halfway through my year. It has been a growing experience, a learning experience, and in the end, one of the best decisions I ever made. You have to remember your value, remember what you are worth, and remember what you deserve out of life. You have to fight for yourself, and you have to fight for the life that ultimately you want. Do not ever settle. There are plenty of reasons to make decisions, but the most important one is YOU.

What was one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome?
KJ: Hmmm… that is a great question, and honestly, so many things flood my mind. But instead of feeling like, “poor me, I’ve had a lot of serious trauma in my life”, I’d prefer to look at it as, “I am one tough woman. I have overcome many things that eventually made me stronger.” Let’s roll with the second outlook! When I was four years old, my dad died from colon cancer. There are few things that happen to someone in their first five years of life that have such a lasting effect on the rest of their life and the human they turn out to be. I never realized at the time that I would miss and think about losing my dad on every holiday, graduation, marriage, birth, pageant, etc. The ways that not having him here would affect the ways that I operate in everyday life now as an adult. 

To many people, saying the words “dad” and “my father” are very normal for them. To me, it is super foreign. I have not said those words to the man they belong to for 23 years, so saying them all just does not mesh with my vernacular. However, this story does not end sadly. Yes, I have had to overcome unbearable loss, as many people do, but I was given some serious sunshine within all of the darkness. I have the most incredible step-dad on the planet. He is a man who has not missed any of those life events I mentioned above and has gone above and beyond to be the glue that picked up our broken pieces of a family and put us all back together. In this lifetime, I was given two incredible fathers.

You’re in incredible shape, what kind of “diet” do you follow?
KJ: Haha! Thanks, Amber. It has not always been this way. Considering I am labeled as a “pageant girl”, I would like to point out that I was 12, yes 12 sizes larger in high school. And you know what? I liked me then, too! You see, I have always been a competitor. When I was in high school and throughout college, I was much “larger,” because I was eating more and lifting really heavy weights to perform at an extremely high level and succeed at volleyball. I played competitively for 12 years and my body composition became what it needed to be in order to perform, protect itself, and handle the physical strain that is collegiate athletics. When I started on my journey to the shape my body has now taken on, it was for a different type of competition, pageantry. I don’t need all of that muscle any longer, because I am done with athletics. 

Currently, I eat mostly Paleo, but I am not super restrictive. I have no problem going out to eat or to a fun, happy hour and living my life. When I was preparing for Miss California USA, my diet consisted of lean meats, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and lots of water. A sample day would look like this: chicken, asparagus, sweet potato, one apple, and egg whites. Now, obviously, that is not super sustainable. I try to focus on whole foods that fuel my body nutritiously, but you’re not going to see me saying “no” to Taco Tuesday or Bachelor Wine Mondays that often, either. Life is all about balance and enjoyment. Haha! It’s all about balance, great advice. 

Now, with your busy schedule, what is your training routine like?
KJ: Oh, gosh. I will be honest with you. I do one workout and one workout only. I go to SoulCycle about four times a week. I am super addicted, and I will admit it. I love my instructor, I love my Soul community, and it makes me feel incredible. It is a very intense cycle class to music with choreography. It keeps me long and lean!

Do you prefer to take your workouts outdoors or stay inside at the gym?
KJ: I love this question! I should have specified, the only “organized” workout that I do is SoulCycle indoors. However, I love love love to take a workout outside. I love to go hiking, biking, running, walking, and anything and everything that puts you on a mountain or in the ocean. I am a total athlete. I am always up for anything outside, and if it makes me sweat even better!

From Costa Rica to Colorado, you seem to always be on the go. How do you stay healthy while traveling?
KJ: It is all about planning, Amber. Seriously. Planning ahead of time is key. For me, I like to plan my workouts, so if I am traveling somewhere with SoulCycle I make sure to book a bike. If I am not, I organize something active within the vacation (hiking, swimming, etc.). If I am truly looking to vacation, there have been many times where I take the entire week off from workouts, too. That is just the truth. Sometimes we all need a break. Plus, you can always make healthy choices even when you’re having fun. You can order a lower-calorie beverage, or skip the pasta and enjoy the salmon. There are little swaps you can make so you don’t feel “yucky” on vacation, but you can still enjoy some of the best parts about getting away. If you just HAVE to succumb to all of the calories and stagnancy that traveling can promote, just get back on the train when you’re home. No shame!

You’re also a registered nurse, what made you choose nursing as a career?
KJ: Honestly, it was such a magical moment. It sounds so cheesy, but I knew in an instant what I was supposed to do with my life. When my dad was in the hospital before he passed away, he was referred to as “Colon cancer in room 453” by someone in the hall. Just like that, he was narrowed to a room number and a diagnosis, not Alan Johnson who was dying and had three little girls at home, a wife, was a brother, a son, a friend. Just a room number and a diagnosis. But… we had a nurse who knew everything about my sisters and myself. She knew where we went to school, she’d call my mom after hours, and she took extraordinary care of my dad. That’s when I knew I needed to be what she was for me for another family.

Wow, I’m so happy you found your calling amongst such a difficult situation. Is there a specific field of nursing you’re in?
KJ: Thank you. I am in travel nursing, and my specialty is intensive care. 

Thank you so much for sitting down with us, before we wrap up, can you tell us what’s next for Kelley Johnson?
KJ: So many wonderful things, Amber! I am continuing my public speaking career throughout 2019. My work with Wanderly and Cherokee Uniforms is ongoing. I am finishing up doctorate school at the University of Colorado. And most importantly, I am enjoying my incredible life with my English bulldog living right by the beach and soaking up all of the things that Los Angeles has to offer!

UP NEXT: Chady Dunmore – Starting Over Again

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