Newman grad uses her crown to advocate for those with chronic illness
Rebekah Mason has come a long way since her freshman year at Newman Catholic High School.
Mason, 19, a 2019 Newman Catholic graduate, was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, in 2015, and she has used her diagnosis to help others with chronic illnesses since then.
“I get this chance to go from someone who was really sick to being able to advocate and support those who now are going through the things I went through,” she said.
‘They saved my life’
Five years ago, Mason didn’t know if she’d get to play sports, graduate from high school or attend college.
For months she experienced random — unexplainable — bouts of unconsciousness that resulted in multiple injuries and concussions.
As her condition worsened, she was unable to attend school more than two days a week or participate in sports like volleyball and basketball.
“It was hard to even know what was going to come next,” she said.
Mason was diagnosed with POTS, a blood circulation disorder, after eight months.
She participated in a four-week pediatric inpatient program at Mayo Clinic’s Pain Rehabilitation Clinic in January 2016 where she worked with health care professionals to manage her symptoms.
After the program, she was able to return to school and participate in non-contact sports, like cross country and track, with modifications to her diet and her lifestyle.
“I came out of that program almost completely stable,” she said. “They saved my life.”
Mason, the youngest of Bill and Anne Mason’s five children, said her experience with POTS gave her the courage to try something she never had before: Pageants.
A love for pageants
Her first pageant was the North Iowa Fair Queen Contest in 2017, where she was named first runner-up.
She said she enjoyed meeting new people and talking to new people.
“I’ve always kind of been a performer,” she said. “I love being in the spotlight.”
After the fair queen contest, Mason decided to participate in the National American Miss Pageant system.
She competed in the Miss Iowa Teen pageant and was crowned second runner-up.
“I ended up falling in love with it,” she said.
Mason was crowned Junior Miss Great Lakes at the Princess of America Pageant Minnesota, Wisconsin and Great Lakes in Faribault, Minnesota, earlier this year in a modified pageant format due to COVID-19. She will represent Iowa at Nationals in November in Branson, Missouri.
Princess of America is a national and natural pageant system for girls ages 4 to 24 that emphasizes community service.
Mason said being involved in pageants gave her the platform for Chronic STRENGTH, a support network for individuals with chronic illnesses.
She currently has two support groups, one for middle school and high school students and the other for college students at the University of Iowa.
Mason said after she was diagnosed with POTS in high school, she got involved in online support groups on social media, but when she started attending the University of Iowa last fall, she wanted something more.
She started the Chronic STRENGTH support group in October with about 30 college students with different chronic illnesses meeting at an Iowa City coffee shop.
“It wasn’t so much talking about how awful our lives were or like every little thing we were struggling with but just having people around us that knew how hard it was sometimes to be in college,” Mason said.
She said the support groups, which meet informally every other week, went virtual this spring when the university ceased in-person classes.
Mason, who is an exercise science and pre-physician assistant student, said the groups have given her the opportunity to connect with 30 people who are going through a similar situation as her to make the transition from high school to college less stressful, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
As Junior Miss Great Lakes, she hopes to launch similar groups at colleges across the state, including Iowa State, University of Northern Iowa and North Iowa Area Community College to provide support to other students with chronic illnesses during this time.
“I think there are so many other people who could use it,” Mason said. “I definitely want to try to expand it.”
The Princess of America national pageant was scheduled for July 19-25, but it was postponed in late June due to COVID-19.
It will be Mason’s fourth — and largest — pageant.
“I think it’s awesome that I get to represent Mason City and North Iowa because I think that it’s an awesome place and that it doesn’t always get to have its time in the spotlight,” she said.
Mason’s mother, Anne, said it’s been fun to see her daughter shine in the pageants and advocate for a cause she’s passionate about.
“She works really hard for everything she does,” she said.
Mason has plans to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House, the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital and the American Red Cross this year as well as throughout the North Iowa region.
To follow Mason’s journey to Nationals in Branson, Missouri, visit the Princess of America Junior Miss Great Lakes Facebook page.