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Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis: Miss Washington’s Journey to Miss USA

Alex Carlson-Helo shares her story of walking tall while battling a chronic, invisible illness.

May 10, 2017
After competing in only a handful of pageants, 18-year-old Alex Carlson-Helo was thrilled to win the 2012 Miss Washington Teen USA pageant. Then, in 2014, she began experiencing muscle and joint pain that she described as “different.” 
“Growing up as a competitive dancer, I was always on the go and able to practice for hours on end. I knew something was wrong when, at dance rehearsals, I could barely last the whole practice,” she says. 
Months later, Alex was hospitalized with a paralyzed leg. Doctors eventually diagnosed her with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). She was told that she may never walk again. 
Although Alex appears to be the picture of health, dealing with the chronic pain of RA is a constant struggle. 
The term ‘invisible illness’ truly means that you cannot see what’s going on inside of my body.
Determined to beat the odds, Alex embarked on a journey to recovery that included her winning the crown as Miss Washington USA in 2017. 
Alex Carlson-Helo smiles with her family after being crowned Miss Washington USA 2017. Courtesy of the Miss Universe organization.
“Two years ago, when I was sitting in a hospital bed, if you would have told me that I’d have a crown and a sash, and that I could stand in high heels — let alone walk on a stage in high heels — it’s crazy for me to think about.”
Follow her journey as she competes in the Miss USA pageant later this May. 
Top image: Courtesy of the Miss Universe organization


Jen Germain

Jen Germain is a media producer with the Creative Services team at Cascade Public Media, helping to drive brand and programming initiatives. Previously, Jen worked as a producer with Spark Public, where she helped lead digital strategy and mentor a team of millennial multimedia journalists. Find her on Twitter @jengermain. 

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