Diving into the unknown is scary. Intimidating. Unsettling, even. There is something to be said for the proverbial comfort zone. Namely, it’s comfortable. In the confines of the familiar, we can rest assured that even when challenges present themselves, we’ve got this. We’ve been there, done that. But toe the waters outside of our customary routine, and suddenly things start to look a little dicey. Uncertainty splashes across our best intentions and doubts creep in.
But for Adelaida Peterson, there is no hesitation. Driven by the fight against one of the most devastating and uncomfortable issues facing the world today—that of human trafficking—she is resolute. Forget that she was never a runner. Forget that ten years ago she moved halfway across the globe from her home in the Philippines to the United States. Forget that she once struggled with her weight and a pageant competition was the last thing on her mind. When she stumbled upon a way to bring awareness to an issue dear to her heart, there was no other choice but to jump.
Adelaida is a wife and mom who lives in Chesterfield with her husband, Mark, and their three kids, ages 7, 5, and 18 months. Born and raised in the Philippines, Adelaida earned a B.S. in Psychology at Centro Escolar University in Manila before moving to Florida with her husband, who is from the United States. In addition to opening and running a children’s daycare business, Adelaida published three children’s books. Last year the family moved to Missouri, where Adelaida co-owns a photography business with her husband.
Needless to say, Adelaida’s life was full. But when Adelaida’s high blood pressure—an issue she had struggled with her entire life—complicated the birth of her youngest child, she knew she had to make some changes.
“I have a history of heart problems—very high blood pressure—which resulted in me giving birth to my third and youngest child prematurely,” Adelaida says. “He came out at 30 weeks and stayed in the NICU for more than a month. [My weight] was getting close to 130 pounds at 5 feet tall. So I was a bit on the overweight side. I decided I had to do something about changing my lifestyle and eating habits. And running—for me—was born.”
Even though she had never been a runner or an avid athlete growing up, Adelaida began running, working her way up to 2 miles a day, 5 days a week. She quickly dropped 30 pounds.
“Running gives me more energy. It helps me physically, mentally, emotionally. Physically, running definitely put me right back in shape, along with regular exercise and watching what I eat. Mentally, I find myself always looking forward to new and exciting things, like looking around for when then next race is. Emotionally, I feel good about myself, more comfortable with my body. And the good thing about all of this is that my children look up to me and would like to be runners now, too.”
But the ramifications of Adelaida’s decision to pursue a healthy lifestyle extended beyond her own home. About the same time she started running, she heard about the Mrs. America and Mrs. International pageants, pageant-style competitions that promote married women, their accomplishments, and their commitment to family and marriage. The objective of the pageants is to provide a platform for wives and mothers around the globe to be positive role models and to promote a strong social cause of their choice. Adelaida saw her opportunity.
“I realized I was confident enough that I wanted to try out the beauty pageant and promote my platform,” she says.
Her platform was the issue of human trafficking, a global crime against humanity. The statistics are staggering. According to the United Nations International Labour Organization, the number of persons in forced labor and sexual exploitation at any given time is, at minimum, 2.5 million. Of these, approximately 1.4 million are in Asia and the Pacific. The non-governmental organization Free the Slaves estimates there are over 27 million people enslaved in forced labor or the sex trade, 24 million of which are in Asia. And while it is impossible to know the exact scope of such a massive, clandestine industry, the UN reports that some estimates suggest human trafficking for labor and sexual exploitation nets annual profits of over $30 billion.
With human trafficking being particularly concentrated in Asia, Adelaida felt a strong personal tie to the issue.
“Imagine if it was your daughter or niece or sister being trafficked,” she told the GMA network, a news organization based in the Philippines. “Instinct will just tell you to act on it.”
Adelaida knew nothing about beauty pageants, except one thing: It would provide a stage.
“I wanted to find a way to speak up against human trafficking and have a bigger stage to do so. I thought, ‘If I get all dolled up, stay in shape, join some premiere pageant that puts importance not just in beauty and being physically fit but also in having a great social cause, then I have a good chance,’” she continued in GMA. “It worked, thankfully.”
Adelaida began a crash course in all things pageant. Walking the runway. Providing articulate answers during on-stage interviews. Public speaking in large forums. Then, of course, there was the whole issue of height. Adelaida is all of a whopping 5 feet tall.
“People who have met me know I am petite, and I have been in pictures with other women who are beautiful… and taller than me. It was awkward at first,” she laughs, “but I got over it quickly and have embraced my height as part of just being me.”
Before she knew it, the pageant rookie found herself being crowned Mrs. Missouri International. Next July, she will travel to Chicago with over 80 other women from across the US and the world to compete for the title of 2013 Mrs. International.
In the meantime, she’ll devote herself to raising awareness and funds to fight human trafficking. And a big part of that plan involves running. Later this month, Adelaida will be running a 5K to benefit the International Crisis Aid’s Safe Campaign. (“I try to run races at least once a week, or if not, twice a month,” she says.) Adelaida also recently completed a 5K in Chicago, as well as the FLEET FEET Flat Five, which was the furthest she had ever run.
“Being Mrs. Missouri International on the journey to Mrs. International next July will be a good stage to emphasize commitment to family and being good role models—all shown by a woman’s determination to succeed in spite of many challenges,” Adelaida says. “Promoting awareness regarding the fight against human trafficking and calling others to participate in advocacy and by taking action will be all the more possible knowing a wider audience will be involved.”