Erica Miller isn’t your average pageant queen.
Prior to competing for one of Lincoln County’s title, Miller, 17, had only previously participated in pageants from the ages of 8-10. After such a long hiatus, it wasn’t love of the glitz and the glamour made popular by television shows that prompted the reigning 2013 Apple Queen to enter the competition. It was her desire to prove that she was a fighter.
“In February 2013, I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) and it was debilitating,” Miller said. “It got to a point where I had to quit attending school for two months. I was homebound. And the doctors kept saying, ‘You have to push. You have to keep trying,’ and so that was kinda my way to show my mom that I was getting on the path to recovery.”
POTS is a form of orthostatic intolerance in which the simple act of standing up can cause a person’s heart rate to jump by 30 beats per minute or more just within 10 minutes of standing. Symptoms can range from fairly mild to making it impossible to do everyday tasks like showering or even getting out of bed. Miller’s symptoms were sudden, but in the months leading up to the pageant, she learned to navigate them well.
Even armed with the knowledge of how to get around her syndrome, Miller still didn’t think she had a chance at winning.
“All the girls backstage were teasing their hair and getting ready to go on stage for beauty and I had what I call my POTS chair, because it reclines all the way back, and me and my mom were just looking around and not stressing about anything,” Miller said.
Since her surprise victory as Apple Queen, Miller has focused a great portion of her time on community involvement, including starting an organization called Hots for POTS. She took requests for custom painted canvas shoes and all proceeds are donated to the National Dysautonomia Research Foundation. So far, she’s raised a little over $1,500 to the foundation.
The recent West Lincoln graduate has enjoyed her year as the Apple Queen, but it’s the people that she’s inspired that she will remember the most.
“I’ve had four or five different people message me on my POTS page and tell me that they have POTS, and they didn’t know that it was such a common thing or that they have POTS symptoms and they’ve told their doctor and because of what I’ve been putting out there, they finally got a diagnosis,” Miller said. “It was really cool.”
The hardest part of her reign was learning how to navigate her duties to the community while attending school.
“They wanted me to read in a school when I was supposed to be in school,” Miller said. “I had to learn how to manage my time.”
Her favorite part of the position has been the interaction she’s had with the community and the little kids that think she’s a real princess. With a smile on her face, Miller embodies perseverance and determination and she hopes that the next Apple Queen, to be crowned on Saturday, will give it her all and love the title as much as she has.
“I’m sad to give it up but I hope whoever wins makes the most of it and realizes that she’s only got a year, so she needs to do all she can in that short amount of time,” Miller said.
The Apple Queen pageant will be held at the Citizens Center in Lincolnton on Saturday. Doors open at 6 p.m. the pageant begins at 7 p.m.