Get to Know Daja Dial
The Miss America hopeful is raising awareness about diabetes
Daja Dial is more than just a pretty face. She’s that, too. It comes with the territory when you’re hoping for the Miss America title. But the 22-year-old Clemson University health management student sees the competition as more than a battle of bikinis—she views it as another platform for her diabetes-awareness campaign.
After her older brother Devin was diagnosed with diabetes, Dial made it her mission to educate people about diabetes. Now, she sits down with Diabetes Forecast to talk about what happens when a loved one is diagnosed with type 1 and how she’s joining the fight to stop diabetes in its tracks.
How has diabetes touched your life?
My family and I watched my brother demonstrate key signs and symptoms of a person living with diabetes. He was fatigued, excessively thirsty, and frequently urinating. At age 19, his 6-foot-5-inch frame weighed an alarming 119 pounds. This final red flag led us to his official diagnosis and immediately sparked my interest in diabetes awareness and education.
In the beginning, my concern was only for Devin and his well-being, but after witnessing his struggle with type 1 diabetes, it became my mission to keep others from having to experience that same struggle. My great-grandmother lost her vision due to complications with diabetes, and my grandmother is prediabetic, so my family understood the importance of working toward a cure.
The following year, I competed in a local MAOTeen [Miss America’s Outstanding Teen] pageant and volunteered with the state ADA chapter at the annual Sugar Ball fund-raiser and gala. It was at that time that I truly realized I had the capacity to help other families, and the Miss America Organization was the vehicle to do it successfully.
Watching him deal with his type 1 diagnosis must have been hard. What was it like for you and your family?
It is so difficult for me to watch my brother live with diabetes. As my older brother, he was always bigger and stronger than me—a protector like big brothers are supposed to be. However, seeing what diabetes did to him, not just physically but also emotionally, has been stressful for me.
He was diagnosed later in life, so I feel it was even harder for him to learn to manage. He did not develop healthy habits like most children diagnosed with type 1 have to do at an early age. He was a teenager, the natural time for junk food and rebellion. Like most teenagers, he longed to be normal, and limiting carbs and giving injections is definitely not that. I believe this age has to be the most challenging for any person with type 1 diabetes.
My brother was embarrassed to share anything about his diabetes with his friends. Once, at an outdoor summer concert, he got incredibly sick. His friends took him to the hospital but had no idea what was wrong. By the time my mother and I got there, we saw him lifeless in the bed, in severe DKA [diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition caused by too little insulin in the body].
It was probably the scariest thing I have ever witnessed. Those teenage to college years are difficult for all of us, and then to add in a disorder that is truly life or death really changes things. My brother still struggles with managing his diabetes, and my family still prays daily he will find the strength to believe that it is worth the extra work it takes.
What do you hope to accomplish through making both type 1 and type 2 diabetes your platform as Miss South Carolina, especially as you head into the Miss America program?
My ultimate goal is to help people see diabetes differently. I want to lead an awareness and education campaign that encourages people to successfully manage their lives with the disease. One of my proudest accomplishments so far was helping to bring back our gala in South Carolina.
After changes in leadership and sponsorships, the Sugar Ball dissolved over the years. But I knew what it did for my family—both emotionally and financially—and I was determined to bring in back. We changed the name to the Stop Diabetes Gala and committed to stopping diabetes in its tracks in my local community.
Assisting with the return of the gala led to me serving as a leader for the American Diabetes Association in South Carolina. My work locally with the ADA—as a local titleholder and now as the state titleholder—has led to me being invited to serve on the Celebrity Cabinet for the national American Diabetes Association.
I now work alongside celebrities like Patti Labelle, Lil Jon, and Duane Brown to bring awareness to this special cause. I have also been selected as the honorary chair for the Step Out®: Walk to Stop Diabetes® in Greenville, South Carolina, and I will serve as a blogger for the American Diabetes Association.
This gives me the opportunity to share my story and experiences, and offer encouragement and motivation to other families. Long term, I want to do more than just offer support to families; I want to implement programs that will change the way we think about diabetes. I believe that starts in our elementary schools, through funding more diabetes educators as well as conducting more nutrition and wellness programs.
Sounds like a worthy goal. Are there any opportunities for us to show our support for you?
Of course! We encourage people to vote once a day on Facebook and Twitter by creating a post that says “South Carolina #MissAmericaVote” until September 10.
I’m also asking all of my [social media] followers to use the hashtag #DollarsOnDial since the competition is in Atlantic City and I’m hoping people will “bet” on me for the win.
What message do you hope to convey to the nearly 30 million people with diabetes?
I want everyone to believe in themselves. Believe that you can overcome your struggle. Believe you have power to manage your diabetes. Believe that you can make a difference in your life and the lives of others. Believe we will find a cure. And believe there are passionate people out there working every day to inspire, encourage, and motivate the change. I believe we will stop diabetes, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that!