Windsor woman and burn survivor Danette Haag to represent Colorado in Mrs. America pageant
| Fort Collins Coloradoan
Danette Haag always dreamed of competing in pageants — so much so that she still has a picture of herself as a little girl dressed up with a tinfoil crown and “Miss America” sash made out of toilet paper.
Roughly a year after that photo was taken, however, a gas leak from the furnace in her family’s Iowa home led to an explosion that nearly killed then-10-year-old Haag and left her with burns and scarring on about 70% of her body.
“I was watching the Miss America pageant that year (after the explosion), and I remember that dream popping up again,” Haag said. “I looked down at my hands and all my scars and thought, ‘Well, that’s never going to happen.’ “
But this year, four decades after the explosion that changed her life, the Windsor resident — a wife, mother, business owner, burn survivor, podcaster and public speaker — added another title to her growing list: Mrs. Colorado.
After feeling a pull to follow her dreams, Haag, 50, competed in the Mrs. Colorado pageant in 2019 and 2020. In June, she won the crown and is now preparing to represent the state in the Mrs. America pageant this November.
It’s been a long and hard-fought road, but Haag said her path to pageants started, in a way, when she was able to find her beauty again.
“Why it took me so long was … it’s always the bad guys, the ugly guys, the monsters with scars,” Haag said, speaking of how burn survivors and people with scars were portrayed in movies and TV while she was growing up. “I really thought our world would never accept me as beautiful.”
In those hard moments, Haag said she ultimately found tools that helped her reclaim her confidence and self-worth.
“People get stuck in their pain and stuck behind their scars,” Haag said. “Six years ago, I started writing programs to combat that.”
Those programs are now the center of her public speaking engagements and seek to help people heal and rediscover their self-worth.
While her hands were full with public speaking, raising four children with her husband, Mike, and running the couple’s carpet and air duct cleaning business in Windsor — the family’s home of 21 years — Haag said she once again started feeling a pull toward pageants about five years ago.
“You know, I’m telling people I’m flawless (in my public speaking programs), but I’m not doing this for myself,” she said of not pursuing her longtime dream.
In 2019, she took the plunge, thanks to a nudge from her friend and former Mrs. Fort Collins Mina Muirhead, who won the Mrs. Colorado title in 2013.
Once she started competing in pageants, Haag said she remembers a realization washing over her.
“I had this vision of me and all these women on stage in their gowns, and I saw their scars, too,” Haag said. They may not have been physical scars like hers, but they were there. “I knew their pain. I’d heard their stories.”
Haag was named a semifinalist in the 2020 Mrs. Colorado pageant before winning the title earlier this year. She also took away the “best in swimsuit” award for 2021.
“As a little girl, going to the pool was traumatic,” Haag said, recalling people staring at her or making mean comments about her scars. All told, she would have to have 30 reconstructive surgeries from ages 10 to 20.
“I couldn’t hide in a swimsuit, so now 40 years later to be able to get ‘best in swimsuit’ and show so much confidence in 6-inch heels at 50 … to me that was just a huge validation that beauty does radiate past any scar,” Haag said.
As Mrs. Colorado, Haag has a growing list of speaking events scheduled, many of which will benefit nonprofits like the Greeley-based Western States Burn Center, where Haag has volunteered since 2007.
For the past year and a half, she’s also co-hosted the “Listen Soul Sister” podcast with Muirhead, in which the duo shares women’s stories and life lessons.
As fall nears, Haag said she’s busy getting ready for the Mrs. America pageant, which will take place Nov. 13-21 in Las Vegas.
Back in Colorado, Haag said the Western States Burn Center plans to host a Mrs. America watch party so its patients and staff can watch her compete.
Haag laughed when she recalled meeting another burn survivor, a burly Wyoming outdoorsman named Nate, at the burn center a couple years ago while volunteering.
“He said to me last year, ‘You know, you inspire me. If you can be a freaking beauty queen, I know that I can do anything,’ ” Haag recalled.
Chasing her pageant dreams “gives him permission to jump back into life,” Haag added. “We don’t have to stay in some little box that the world tries to put us in — nobody does.”
Want to hear more from Danette?
To find a schedule of her upcoming speaking engagements, visit the official Mrs. Colorado Facebook page. If you’d like to support the Western States Burn Center, visit ncmcfoundation.org.
Erin Udell reports on news, culture, history and more for the Coloradoan. Contact her at ErinUdell@coloradoan.com. The only way she can keep doing what she does is with your support. If you subscribe, thank you. If not, sign up for a digital subscription to the Coloradoan today.
This content was originally published here.