Mrs. Oregon Tara Arnold uses crown to promote exercise, nutrition

Tara Arnold has lost four diamonds in her first six months. She lost one snaking left during a choreographed dance with elementary schoolers, another letting a young admirer try on her crown. Tiny hands shake when they hold something so special, and the girl dropped the crown. A diamond went flying. Young girls have offered to glue the jewels back in, but if Arnold loses every fake diamond in her crown, she’ll consider her reign as Mrs. Oregon a success. The 26-year-old pediatric Providence St. Vincent Medical Center nurse lost these jewels moving, and it was movement, not a tiara, she wanted when she entered the pageant. At the hospital, many of the patients she meets eat poorly and rarely exercise. She wanted to meet them and help change their lives before they ended up in a hospital bed. Arnold, who will hold the title until a panel of judges crowns a new Mrs. Oregon in November, will travel to Arizona in August to compete for the Mrs. America title. But first, she has her mind on this weekend. On Saturday, she will continue her mission to spread the word about nutrition and exercise by hosting a Healthy Kids Fair at Beaverton’s Stoller Middle School that is free and open to the public. “I know as a nurse, it’s my duty to use my health knowledge to impact our community,” said the University of Portland nursing school graduate. “And I take that very seriously.” Farm roots

Arnold is pageant pretty with long, blond hair and sharp, blue eyes, but she had little experience with pageants before she became Mrs. Oregon. She wanted to be a local TV health personality, the Rachael Ray of the local news. With a bachelor’s degree in nursing and not journalism, and with no TV experience, she looked for other ways to gain exposure. In her brainstorming, the Southwest Portland resident remembered meeting Mrs. Oregon 2002, Connie Schwartz, as a child. Back then, Arnold had the same blond hair and tanned skin. But she was prematurely tall and wore braces with headgear through much of elementary school.

She was proud of the metal grin, though. Her family had little money, so Arnold raised and sold Beagle puppies to help pay for her braces. For her sixth-grade school picture, she wore the entire get-up, smiling widely through the bars. Even before the braces straightened her pearly whites, Arnold’s mom, Vicki Warneking, could tell her daughter had the makings of a natural beauty queen. But the family never let on, she said. “She was born pretty,” Warneking said. “But growing up, we didn’t tell her she was pretty. We told her she was smart.” That’s what Arnold recognized in Mrs. Oregon, too — a confident, accomplished woman. Not pretty, but smart. “I remember thinking I want to grow up and make a difference like her,” Arnold said. “I want to have a job where I can go around making people feel loved and special, where I can work for amazing causes.” Growing into the role

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