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CHARLES TOWN – Little girls often dream of becoming a princess. Carrie Yarnall of Charles Town grew up to become one in her own way. She doesn’t live in a castle. But as the reigning Mrs. North America, she has a sparkly tiara for those special occasions.

“I don’t think it ever leaves you,” Yarnall said of many a woman’s deep-down wish to be cherished and considered lovely — even dazzling. “I think every single female has this inner little thing inside of them that they just dream of that moment of wearing a crown and a pretty dress. It’s kind of like one of those innate senses that we’re born with.”

A regular beauty pageant competitor since she was a high school senior, Yarnall is a modern-day Cinderella with an 8-1/2 foot slipper. At 33, she has an established career as a veterinary technician. She also has a supportive husband and a mostly shy 5-year-old daughter.

“A lot of people don’t realize that once you are married you can still continue to compete because there are pageants for married women,” she said.

Her current reign as Mrs. North America began in June after she topped about 45 other married women wearing swimsuits and evening gowns during a pageant held in Palms Springs, Calif. In three weeks, she’ll move to a bigger stage in Shenzhen, China, to compete against 80 other married women for the title of Mrs. Globe.

With nearly a dozen past pageant wins to her name, Yarnall said she was drawn to the Mrs. North America and Mrs. Globe events because of their empowering message that women’s dreams don’t have to fade after marriage or motherhood. “This organization is all about allowing you to focus on yourself while also being a wife and a mother and a career-oriented woman, but also working towards maybe some of those dreams that, you know, you haven’t had the opportunity to achieve yet,” she said.

Setting and pursuing goals is a major part of being a pageant princess, Yarnall explained.

“For me, the preparation and the work going into a pageant and then seeing all of that come to fruition when you’re there on the stage competing — that’s almost addicting to me,” she said. “That’s the most exhilarating part of it — to know that you have put in all this effort and all this time, and you were so focused and driven and then there you are: You’re on the stage and you’ve made it to that point, and whether you win or you lose you’ve still worked towards an ultimate goal and there was some level of growth within that period of time.”

Holding the Mrs. North America crown has led to appearances in Washington, D.C., and Florida, as well as at numerous local festivals and fairs. Becoming Mrs. Globe would see her traveling more broadly in Europe and Asia. Events in Greece and Spain would likely be on her schedule.

Among her most enjoyable experiences as Mrs. North America, she said, has been meeting families and taking pictures with bashful but wide-eyed little girls sweetly awed by her gown, sash and crown.  

But it’s not all glitter and glamour as a pageant princess, Yarnall assured.

Preparing for the upcoming Mrs. Globe pageant, which will be broadcast throughout China and possibly live-streamed over the internet, has taken most of her time recently. Those preparations, she said, involve planning her wardrobe, working out in the gym, and honing and condensing a 60-second speech about herself that she will give before a panel of judges and an audience.

“There’s not a lot of information you can put into one minute,” she pointed out. “They pretty much give you free rein to talk about whatever you want. They call it personality profile because they want you to show your personality.”

“It’s all about having a well-rounded contestant at the end of the day,” she added.

Yarnall’s efforts pay off no matter how the final judging turns out, she said.

“Just being on the stage in itself is exhilarating,” she explained. “There is no greater adrenaline rush than to have to stand in front of a massive crowd of people in a gown and heels and know you have to maintain your grace and your poise and your posture.”

As part of her charity work, Yarnall volunteers for the nonprofit Women in Need Foundation. The organization assists and counsels women who experienced abuse or trauma, a cause she said she identifies with as a victim of childhood sexual abuse.

A recent two-week seminar the foundation offered on recovering emotionally from sexual abuse was particularly liberating and healing, Yarnall said. The seminar helped her gain more confidence and release some lingering inner turmoil from that past, she said.

“I’ve been able to find peace and calmness and happiness,” she said.

After working as a licensed veterinary technician for 10 years, an experience that included caring for military dogs at the Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., Yarnall, volunteers with a nonprofit called Paws of Honor, a Washington-based group that helps provide medical care for retired military and police dogs. With a family that includes three dogs and nine cats, she also assists with the Jefferson County Animal Welfare League.

Yarnall said her husband, James, a cybersecurity expert for Capital One, didn’t understand her passion for pageantry when they were first dating. Since then, after six years of marriage, he fully appreciates the challenge and has become her biggest supporter.

Now, James attends competitions and assists her with everything ranging from rehearsals to ironing gowns back in the hotel room, Yarnall said.

“He has admitted to me that he gets extremely nervous and anxious when it’s time for the show,” she said. “He gets very nervous because he sees the preparation I put into it.”

As for her daughter Brinley, “she couldn’t care less,” Yarnall adds with a laugh. The preschooler, who usually stays away from mom’s pageant competitions, is more interested in horseback riding.

Time will tell whether Brinley will one day follow her mother down the pageant runway. If so, she’ll have a ready source of insights and inspiration at home.

“There’s something magical about somebody who has a crown on their head, and it’s magical what they can accomplish with it,” Yarnall explained. “It just makes you feel like you’re so powerful and you can just conquer the world.”

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