CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston native Julie Warden, who was crowned Mrs. West Virginia International on May 4, is using her title to promote the fight against rheumatoid arthritis.
Half of each contestant's score was based on an interview, particularly their ability to discuss what motivates them in life. That came naturally for Warden, 27, who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since she was 22.
The autoimmune disease results in a chronic, systemic inflammatory disorder that may affect many tissues and organs but principally attacks flexible joints.
Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of the joints, causing painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
"Rheumatoid arthritis is something that's very close to my heart, and it was very easy to talk about," she said.
Although born and raised in Charleston, she now lives in Kenna, Jackson County, with her husband, Lowell. She is the regional director of career management for West Virginia Junior College and is also in charge of its social media presence.
Lowell, an engineer, supported his wife during the competition at Tamarack and was on hand to present her with the sash and crown.
Julie said her husband was so nervous and excited during the ceremony that his hands were shaking as he placed the tiara on her head. She competed against seven other married women.
She is a pageant veteran who was crowned Miss Teen West Virginia United States in 2004.
Now she is preparing for the Mrs. International Pageant in Chicago on July 21 and 22.
But she is currently focused on traveling the state to raise awareness about the Arthritis Foundation's programs, available resources and upcoming events.
"I don't have a targeted audience," she said. "Women may get it more, but in West Virginia we have rural areas where people aren't informed about the disease. I want to raise awareness as a whole."
Today she will join others involved with the West Virginia branch of the arthritis foundation as Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signs a proclamation designating May as National Arthritis Month.