Meet Miss Wyoming An SLP with a TBI awareness and prevention platform, Catherine Brown competes Jan. 14 for Miss America Features
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Features  |   November 01, 2011
Meet Miss Wyoming
Author Notes
  • Carol Polovoy, assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader , can be reached at cpolovoy@asha.org.
    Carol Polovoy, assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader , can be reached at cpolovoy@asha.org.×
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Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Traumatic Brain Injury / Features
Features   |   November 01, 2011
Meet Miss Wyoming
The ASHA Leader, November 2011, Vol. 16, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.16152011.np
The ASHA Leader, November 2011, Vol. 16, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.16152011.np
As a child growing up in Texas, recent University of Wyoming graduate Catherine Brown didn’t dream of tiaras and sashes. Nor did she feel a particular affinity for speech-language pathology, despite her mother’s career in the field.
In January, however, Brown—a school-based speech-language pathologist—will take the stage as Miss Wyoming 2011 at the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas, bringing her platform of traumatic brain injury awareness and prevention to a national audience.
Miss Wyoming, SLP Catherine Brown, poses with ASHA President Paul Rao at the President’s Welcome Reception at ASHA’s Convention in San Diego.
“It’s been such a fun and wild ride!” Brown said of the past nine months’ itinerary, which attests to her personal motto: “Live life more than abundantly.”
Her schedule included a spring clinical placement at a rehabilitation hospital in Honolulu; winning the state title in June (her first-ever pageant) in a competition that began 18 hours after she returned from Hawaii; moving from Laramie to Gillette to start her job; making appearances to promote her platform and to raise money for the official Miss American philanthropy, the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals; attending the ASHA Convention in November; and preparing physically and mentally for the January pageant.
So how did this vibrant, enthusiastic young woman arrive at this point? Brown made her professional decision in high school. “I had been thinking about physical therapy,” she explained, but changed her decision after experiencing three months of extremely painful physical therapy (because of broken ribs misdiagnosed as pulled muscles). She then set her sights on speech-language pathology. “It was a perfect opportunity for me,” she said. “I just knew it would be right.”
Brown’s decision was cemented in her senior year at the University of Wyoming, when her younger brother Jeremy suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Then 15, Jeremy was “messing around with some friends” when he was struck by a pickup truck, slamming the front of his head on the vehicle’s windshield and then the back of his head on the cement pavement. He suffered a severe hemorrhage in his frontal and left temporal lobes and was comatose for a day and a half.
Brown credits Jeremy’s recovery to the swift treatment he received under TBI protocols and procedures. Neither his hearing nor his speech was affected. “He presented with confabulatory speech, confusion, and verbosity that resolved within a few days, but his production was not affected,” Brown said. His TBI did cause difficulties with memory (short- and long-term), executive functions, and pragmatics, for which he received cognitive rehabilitation treatment from SLPs.
Amazingly, he was released from the hospital eight days later, and graduated high school with above-average grades. Now a college freshman studying engineering, he continues to struggle with some cognitive deficits. “He overcomes these memory and planning deficits by using the strategies that SLPs taught him,” Brown said. “He’s living a normal, successful college life because of these strategies.”
Through this incident, Brown became acutely aware of the effects of TBI on the patient, the family, and the community, and knew she wanted to focus her speech-language career on TBI.
An experience as a University of Wyoming undergraduate also helped shaped Brown’s pageant future. A sorority sister and fellow cheerleader, who had competed in pageants all her life, won the 2010 Miss Wyoming crown. “It was so much fun!” Brown said. “I saw everything she got to do during her year, including promoting women’s heart health.”
It was then that Brown realized she could boost the visibility of TBI awareness and prevention with the state title. “You can only do so much on your own,” she said. “The title opens doors and gets more people to listen to you.”
The logistics of pursing that title were daunting: Brown spent the three months immediately preceding the competition in Honolulu, about 4,000 miles away. (She and a friend chose to arrange clinical practica in Hawaii, with the approval of the University of Wyoming.) To train physically and mentally for the pageant, Brown woke up at 4:30 a.m. to work out. She walked to the bus stop, where she practiced her song—“Come Away With Me”—for the talent competition. (“I didn’t want to bother my housemates,” she explained.) On the hour-long bus ride to the rehabilitation facility, she read newspapers to keep up on current events and plan answers to interview questions. At the end of day she would run, on the beach or to the grocery store, both for the exercise and to maintain a tan.
The pageant week began 18 hours after her return to Laramie. After her June 25 win, Brown spent two months traveling across the state to rodeos, parades, fairs, retirement homes, and other appearances, all in her own car. (Unlike in other states, the Wyoming organization has no funding for the state title holder. Brown, the only Miss America contestant holding a full-time job in addition to her state title, needed a personal loan to pay for her competition wardrobe.) She tailored her presentation to her audience—helmet use for biking and skateboarding for general audiences, for example, and fall prevention in retirement homes.
At the end of the summer, Brown moved to rural Gillette, Wyoming, to work with elementary and high school students in Campbell County public schools. In addition to providing intervention for the 56 students on her caseload, she visits elementary schools to talk about “Elvin the Elephant Who Forgets,” to explain TBI to students. She also visits with fifth- and six-grade students in SWAT (Students Without Alcohol and Tobacco) to talk about making good decisions and to share her brother’s story.
She’s also in training for the Miss America competition, rehearsing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” working out, and preparing for interviews.
Brown, who served as vice president of her chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association, attended the ASHA Convention in San Diego in November—as an SLP and as Miss Wyoming. A former supervisor spread the word about Brown’s Convention participation to ASHA President Paul Rao, who promptly invited her to his welcome reception and introduced her as a “beacon of inspiration” at the opening session. She also co-presented a poster session with two University of Wyoming professors on her undergraduate research to determine aerodynamic thresholds required to generate sound from 10 common novelty horns used in oral-motor exercises. Results show that for most horns, the pressures required for sound fall below the pressure range observed for speech.
The Convention was “amazing,” Brown said. “It was fun to tell people who saw me in my sash and tiara that I’m also an SLP.”
And her feelings about the Jan. 14 Miss America pageant? “I’m really hoping to win Miss America,” Brown said, “but if not, I’ll continue to make appearances. It’s incredible to travel and spread my platform. Miss America is a hugely empowering organization for women. We’re sending a message to young girls—stay fit, work on your academics, and develop your talents. I’m just so privileged to be able to do this.”
Cheer Her On!

The Miss American pageant airs on ABC-TV on Saturday, January 14, at 9 p.m. EST. Follow Catherine Brown as she blogs about her preparation and participation. To contribute to her effort, visit Catherine’s website.

Vote Miss Wyoming Into the Top 15!

Miss Wyoming 2011, speech-language pathologist Catherine Brown, will compete for the title of Miss America on January 14. Popular vote will determine one of the 15 finalists in the competition. To vote for Miss Wyoming—and her platform of TBI prevention and awareness—visit Miss America’s video contest or the Miss America Facebook page.

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November 2011
Volume 16, Issue 15