As she was crowned Mrs. Iowa United States in May, Christine Streets wondered if surviving a series of life-threatening problems over the past two years was only a dream.
Even now, as she awaits the July 12 broadcast of her appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, she still can't quite believe her own triumph over tragedy.
"My life was altered, turned upside down, but now it's better than it's ever been," said the 29-year-old who moved to Schaumburg in 2009 because of her husband's job promotion but was still eligible to represent Iowa in the pageant.
Streets' roller coaster ride started in 2008, when she was pregnant with her first child. She was diagnosed with the most severe form of preeclampsia, a hypertension disorder that occurs during pregnancy, and her liver and kidneys started shutting down. Doctors told her it nearly killed her unborn daughter and herself. A premature delivery was induced, and both of their lives were saved.
While nursing her daughter, Delaney, to health, Streets and her husband, Josh, lost their newly renovated Cedar Rapids home in the massive 2008 floods.
Forced to move back in with her parents, Streets found herself taking care of her father, too, when he was diagnosed with stage-3 cancer.
Suddenly, she had to move to Schaumburg, where - alone most days in a strange environment - fell into a deep depression and indulged a food addiction that caused her to reach a peak weight of 250 pounds.
Streets was maintaining a steady weight of 210 pounds when she got a call last December from a friend she hadn't seen in a while, suggesting she run in the Mrs. Iowa United States pageant and use it as a platform to educate women about preeclampsia.
Even though she now lived out of state, the Mrs. Iowa United States pageant allows women to enter if they live, had lived, or attended college in Iowa.
From her friend's point of view, Streets could be a serious contender for the crown. Before her pregnancy, Streets had worked as a motivational speaker for Kaplan University, educating high school seniors on the financial responsibilities of going to college and living on their own for the first time.
What her friend didn't know about was her significant weight gain - not to mention the depression she was hiding from everyone, including her husband.
"My thrill for the day was to eat," she said of that time. "I'd be excited to think about what I'd be having for lunch. It was my only happiness."
She told her friend that entering the pageant sounded like a good idea for the following year, but her friend said there was no reason to wait.
"She said, 'Do it now or never,'" Streets said.
Streets hesitated. The idea that she could use the title to raise awareness of preeclampsia appealed to her. In the end, that decided it.
"I knew God did not save my life for me to sit on a couch eating a Whopper," she said.
Almost reluctantly, Streets paid the $599 entry fee. Then she began a strict fitness regimen that involved exercise, a 1,200 calorie-a-day diet, and drinking a massive 120 ounces of water a day. She now weighs 128 pounds.
Streets says her goal was to be fit and toned, not rail-thin. She never limited herself from eating any particular kind of food, just to stay within her calorie count.
Among the nine women who competed for Mrs. Iowa United States, Streets said she probably weighed the most but believed it was the right weight for her.
Though the pageant was looking for entrants in all 50 states, Streets said she felt it was only right for her to enter in Iowa.
"I'm still Iowa inside, but I'm becoming Illinois more and more," she said.
Streets is now preparing for the national pageant in Las Vegas July 21 and 22. If she wins, she will be able to travel around the country, rather than just around the Midwest, speaking to women about preeclampsia.
The overriding philosophy of the pageant is to find "a role model for all women," and Streets believes her overcoming such a variety of problems in the past two years makes her eligible to be that role model.
Some of her victories, like her weight loss, were by her own hand. Others, like her daughter's recovery and her father's remission, were not entirely under her control.
"The stars have aligned for me," Streets said. "I don't think I deserve this more than anyone else, but I've been lucky, and I've worked hard for it!"
She said the most commonly useful lessons she's learned probably involve her victory over obesity. While everyone probably knows it takes incredible effort to lose weight, what most people probably lack is a strong enough motivation or goal to stick to it.
"It sounds so cheesy, but it's real," she said. "I think in today's society, we're lazy. I'm only 29 and my generation has had a lot of things handed to us. I used to watch a lot of reality shows, and I called myself a wannabe."