By DJ McAneny
Stamford's Kaitlyn Tarpey is pretty much unstoppable.
Just a few years ago, doctors admitted her to the hospital with a rare disease that collapsed her lung and gave her a 10 percent chance to live through the weekend.
She told them they were wrong.
Now she wears a bejeweled crown as Miss Connecticut, a title she won on June 22, 2013.
Stricken with Lemierre's Syndrome at 18, she was rushed to Stamford Hospital on a weekend, where staff discovered the anaerobic bacteria had caused a gel to begin massing in her lung, collapsing it. She was told she wouldn't make it to Monday.
"I said, 'No, that's not happening and you're wrong,'" she said. "I have a very Type-A personality. I'm fine now, but it was scary ... I'm so thankful for my parents, who raised me to be athletic, in a healthy-conscious household. It was a habit for me to be healthy, and if I didn't have that sort of upbringing, I wouldn't have made it. So that was the first lesson I took from that.
"The second lesson was everything in life is mental. Absolutely everything. I think if I laid back in that bed and said, 'Okay, I'm not going to live to see Monday. I'll say my goodbyes,' I don't think I would have made it. But I'm so stubborn."
Tarpey said if she hadn't fallen ill, she probably wouldn't have accomplished as much as she has in the last few years.
"I wouldn't be Miss Connecticut if I hadn't gotten sick," she said. "Life threw me a curveball and I had to adapt ... It really made me think about what I wanted to do. What is important to me? I missed dancing."
Having moved away from Irish dancing for scholastic pursuits, Tarpey had to withdraw from her full-ride college experience when she had to move closer to home to receive regular IV treatments. Discovering the Miss America pageant also offered young women scholarships for schooling, she decided to try it out. And took up dancing again.
"I was a very, very competitive Irish dancer," Tarpey said. "It's something that I just lost touch with, but the Miss America organization has put me back in touch with my choreographer and my dance school and the girls that I grew up dancing with and they've actually become such a great support system. They're competitors, too. I need to be surrounded by people who understand that, even though this is a job and a wonderful opportunity, it's also a competition, and I really need to stay focused."
She'll get to perform in the talent portion of the Miss America Pageant if she's selected as one of the Top 10 finalists. She hopes she'll get to show off her skills on national television.
Tarpey uses her platform to do as much good as she can, and really approaches the title as a full-time job. She said the responsibilities that come along with representing Connecticut are numerous, and she's glad to be able to put the title to good use by working to change the world.
"I wear a whole bunch of different hats," she said. "I am the state spokesperson for the Connecticut Children's Medical Center, which is a Children's Miracle Network hospital. I promote my personal platform, which is 'Our Time to Serve,' hiring and housing our veterans. And then I serve as a face for the Miss Connecticut organization, the Miss Connecticut sponsors and the 20 girls that I compete against in Connecticut. It's a full-time gig. I'm notorious for saying, 'I'm Miss Connecticut whether the crown is on my head or not.'"
Her friends and family have been nothing but supportive, Tarpey said, and they "understand my lifestyle and my dreams." She said her mother hasn't let her forget she can and will be Miss America.
But in another area of life, she's found the title brings some challenges. The good news for guys in Connecticut: she's still single. She doesn't drink, eat red meat, she's gluten- and dairy-free. She loves green beans, sweet potato fries and chicken wings, she said, "Which my trainer is going to be so mad about when she reads this."
Just don't ask her out through Facebook.
"Intimidation factor? I actually was told last night — I went on a date last night and I was told it was very intimidating I'm Miss Connecticut," she laughed. "So I'll probably stay single for a while. I'm just normal, I'm a normal person. I'm awesome. I don't get it. I don't know why people are intimidated by me. I'm a girl and I like flowers and fancy dates. I know exactly what I want and I'm so honest and open with everyone around me ... It's funny, I've gotten a couple date requests through Facebook. Don't do that, guys. It's just not okay. Do something else."
Tarpey leaves in a few weeks for the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, NJ, where she will stay for two weeks. The pageant will be broadcast on ABC on Sept. 15.