Woman's cause takes center stage
As a beauty pageant contestant, Brandy Wendler is used to being in the spotlight.
But the Eagle River resident isn’t only interested in winning crowns. Wendler’s main purpose is spreading awareness about her disorder, Celiac Disease.
Along with interfering with the absorption of nutrients from food, Celiac Disease also causes gluten intolerance, Wendler said.
Wendler, who was named Mrs. Alaska International last month, will compete in the Mrs. International 2012 pageant in Chicago on July 17-21.
Wendler didn’t get involved in pageants until last year. Before moving to Alaska in summer 2010, Wendler was researching services for people with Celiac in Anchorage.
The movie “Miss Congeniality,” was on in the background. The film — where an FBI agent played by Sandra Bullock goes undercover as a beauty pageant contestant — gave Wendler’s husband, John, an idea.
John suggested his wife compete in a pageant to represent her platform of Celiac awareness.
“I said, ‘Oh my God. That’s such a great idea,’” Wendler said. “And it kind of grew from there.”
Wendler won the first pageant she competed in and was crowned Mrs. Alaska United States in April 2011. After an interview and application process, she assumed her current title of Mrs. Alaska International.
Since winning her first pageant, Wendler has been spreading her message all over the country.
“It’s been an exciting rollercoaster,” she said. “It’s been great to bring awareness to it.”
Pageantry brought attention to Wendler, but her medical background has given her the opportunity to speak nationally about Celiac Disease. Wendler has a master’s degree in acute care nurse practitioner and works as the director of infection control and employee health at St. Elias Specialty Hospital in Anchorage.
Wendler, 27, has struggled with Celiac since high school. Her symptoms, which persisted for more than a decade, were at their worst while she was pursing her master’s four years ago in Atlanta.
Wendler was exhausted despite sleeping 18 hours a night and her weight was dropping.
“I would lose weight eating fast food,” she said. “I was a complete mess.”
It took visits to 13 different doctors before Wendler was correctly diagnosed. Since then, Wendler said her life has completely turned around.
“I’ve taken my mess and turned it into my message,” she said.
Pageantry is just one of several ways Wendler is spreading Celiac awareness. She’s started a nonprofit, A Spoonful of Wellness, dedicated to gluten intolerance education; created a gluten intolerant support group; and is currently reviewing a gluten free cookbook. Wendler also helped the Moose’s Tooth restaurant adapt its gluten free menu and is working with Red Robin to create a gluten free bun.
In addition to gluten intolerance, many people with Celiac are also allergic to dairy and soy, Wendler said.
Despite her restricted diet, Wendler said eating gluten free hasn’t prevented her from taking pleasure in food.
“I may not eat a lot of packaged foods, I may not eat out a lot, but I enjoy my food,” she said.
Wendler, who refuses to cook separate meals, said her husband has no complaints about what’s for dinner.
“He’s adapted really nicely to it,” she said.
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or [email protected]