For Susan Sweat, completing the Cherry Blossom Ten-Mile run and the Potomac River Half Marathon this spring were parts of a larger goal—one that no one except her husband and a few close friends knew about. Sweat was training to become the next Mrs. District of Columbia.
“A girlfriend convinced me to enter the pageant,” says Sweat, who works as a legislative director for Mississippi Congressman Roger Wicker. “My husband is in the Air Force. He was deployed to Iraq last year, which was difficult.” Sweat’s friend thought entering the Mrs. DC Pageant would distract Susan from her husband’s absence. The plan worked, and after a few months of brushing up on her interview skills, selecting her wardrobe, and running along the Mall or in the Hill staff gym, Sweat took the day off on June 27. “I didn’t tell anyone why, just that I needed to take a personal day. The state pageant happened at a really busy time at work and people were really concerned!”
Sweat won the competition to become Mrs. District of Columbia 2007 and go on to the Mrs. America Pageant. One of 51 contestants in the competition held in Tucson, Arizona, August 22 to September 5, Sweat finished among the final 15. The program will air Friday, September 21, at 8:00 PM on WE-TV.
Sweat says one upside of visiting the Grand Canyon State was that contestants learned to round up cattle. A downside: the deadly wildlife. Mrs. Tennessee, Christina Ryan, was bitten by a rattlesnake on the way to a rehearsal—she stepped on the creature after jumping sideways to avoid a tarantula. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. California, Kelly Stornetta, was stung by a giant centipede, causing her arm to swell. Both women were treated at the local hospital and back in high heels in time for the competition. “There are a lot of critters in Tucson that we don’t have in DC,” says Sweat—“rattlesnakes, tarantulas, centipedes!” Fortunately, she managed to steer clear of the creepy crawlers.
During the State Costume Competition, Sweat decided to represent not only her city but also her place of work by dressing as the US Capitol Building. She wore a short, strapless white dress with panels on the sides that attached to her wrists. She used a projector to cast an image of the building on the dress, which she then traced and decorated with glitter and jewels. Her headdress was a styrofoam Capitol dome. She says she received many compliments on her costume, which judges named one of the top five. Louisiana’s Najahe Hall won the event. “She had a bit of an edge,” Sweat says. “She was a Mardi Gras queen. Her costume came in a U-Haul—it was massive!”
Sweat looks back fondly on her pageant experience. “ I was a bit apprehensive going into the competition, but the women were fabulous. I was only one of five people without kids and had wondered if conversation would focus on things like ‘Johnny’s first day of school.’ But there were a lot of women I could relate to. Just because they don’t do policy work in DC doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent and interesting and beautiful.” Sweat roomed with Mrs. Maryland, Adrienne Watson Carver, with whom she became good friends.
Sweat, who lives in Alexandria, thinks of herself more as a DC girl than a Virginia girl. She was eligible to enter the Mrs. DC pageant because she has worked in the District for so long. In her role at Mrs. DC, Sweat says, she serves as a “walking, talking tourism advertisement for DC, which is definitely a privilege but also intimidating. I make sure that the way I carry myself and the way I interact with people is representative of the way Washingtonians are.”
“We have a beautiful city—we really are the center of the free world,” she says. Visiting the monuments at night is one of her favorite things to do, she adds. She also enjoys going to the Tabard Inn with her husband, Scott, who is back from Iraq and was recently promoted to lieutenant colonel. “We grab drinks and maybe an appetizer. Afterwards we’ll take a walk around the Dupont area and people-watch.”
The Sweats won’t have to leave home on Friday night to do their people-watching—they will be viewing the Mrs. America Pageant on television. Susan, who knows what the competition was like in reality, is curious to see how the results are presented to an outside audience. “The producers tried to add a little reality. I hope they don’t edit it and try to create drama out of the show. I won two of the four bonus competitions and a video camera was in my face the whole time. It will be interesting to see the edits.”
The edits may come as a surprise but not the results—Mrs. Wyoming won the pageant. “America couldn’t do any better,” Sweat says of her friend Kelly McBee. Mrs. Maryland finished among the top ten contestants. Mrs. Virginia, Chesapeake resident Darla Lacey, was not among the top finishers.
Neither Susan nor Scott wants pageants to become a lifestyle, but they haven’t given up the running. Both will compete in the Army Ten-Miler on Sunday, October 7.