GOSHEN — Mekayla Eppers stood on the Mrs. America stage in Las Vegas Saturday night, excitedly clasping hands with one of her competitors, Wendy Jordan, also known as Mrs. North Carolina.
The two smiled nervously as the announcer’s voice boomed, “Our brand-new Mrs. America is Mrs. Indiana!”
That statement propelled Eppers, a 28-year-old fitness coach, mentor and pageant contestant from Bristol, into the national spotlight as the 41st woman to hold the title.
For a moment, she was on top of the world.
The day after winning the crown in Las Vegas, though, Eppers and her husband, Christopher Eppers, returned home to a flooded basement.
“It’s been an eventful day for me,” she said during a phone interview Monday morning. “Thankfully my husband and I were still on Las Vegas time.”
The pair had spent most of the night mopping up the mess.
Eppers, who was the 2007 Elkhart County 4-H Fair Queen and competed in Miss USA before her marriage, has always been known for her grounded approach, even as a pageant queen. She made national headlines for her “normal body,” and could have been described this week as having a “sunnier-than-normal” attitude about literally descending from a pageant stage to a dank basement.
As she cleaned, she talked about what life would look like now that she has secured her dream job of becoming Mrs. America.
“The great thing about this title and this organization is the fact that it’s flexible … Life doesn’t stop just because I have a national title,” she explained.
Though her efforts will now extend nationally, Eppers is excited her new position will allow her to continue many of the philanthropic efforts she’d already begun. The primary focus for her community service will continue to be helping others pursue healthy, balanced lifestyles.
The new Mrs. America will also begin immediate preparations for the Mrs. World pageant in December. The international competition will require a two-week whirlwind trip to South Africa, she said.
In the months leading up to Mrs. World, Eppers will balance at least three passions: online fitness coaching, mentoring through local organizations and working on a book she is writing with writers Heather Day and Scarlett Longstreet of the Spilled Milk Club blog.
Eppers stayed mum about the book for now, simply revealing it will “Align with my role as Mrs. America,” and that “I think a lot of women, no matter what age … are going to be able to relate.” Updates on the book will be available at www.SpilledMilkClub.com.
As for local involvement, Eppers is excited to continue her work with Bashor Children’s Home, and is open to beginning work with other organizations that are committed to her passion for a “balanced and healthy lifestyle.”
“The people I see … are looking to overcome some major issue in their life. For me, it was being sexually molested as a child. That’s affected me, especially as an adult … At the end of the day we all have our own battles. We all want to feel good in our own skin,” she said.
Eppers is committed to helping others develop a healthy self-image whenever and wherever she can. She noted Mrs. America provides a unique opportunity to showcase women who dedicate themselves to uplifting the lives of those around them.
“I am the 41st Mrs. America,” she said, “and women’s role in the family has drastically evolved.” From the very beginning, said Eppers, the Mrs. America pageant has been a celebration of women who invest in their children, their husbands and their communities.
For Eppers, the Mrs. America pageant differed in many ways from her previous competitions. It gave her a chance to shine as a businesswoman and a wife — and as someone who hopes to someday be a mother.
“Although my husband and I don’t have children yet, we represent the voice for women and families who are struggling with infertility,” she explained. Her hope is that this struggle will help her be an example of someone who strives for health and balance even in tough times.
“We recently celebrated a year of Christopher being cancer-free,” she said, adding it’s important to recognize health issues can affect even young families.
Eppers concluded by saying whether as wives or mothers or entrepreneurs, Mrs. America focuses on how women can be active both at home and work.
Some days, that can look a lot like cleaning the basement while fielding interview questions.
But even when dealing with mundane tasks, the new Mrs. America couldn’t hide her enthusiasm for the future, for helping more people and doing more public speaking.