The problems began before Triana Browne was even born.
With each of her mother’s contractions, Triana’s heart stopped. An emergency C-section fixed that, although there was no telling what the lack of oxygen might do in the longer term. She also was born with an infection and fluid in her lungs. Hearing about it all, her mom blacked out.
In the neonatal intensive care unit, Triana’s grandmother learned the newborn also had an enlarged heart, a heart murmur and needed blood transfusions. Doctors said the baby might not live through the night; her pale, sagging skin seemed to support the prognosis.
Two weeks later, Triana was the loudest baby in the NICU, a sign of her vitality.
Overcoming adversity would become her defining trait. Alas, adversity was easy to find for this child of a white-skinned, Native-American father and a dark-skinned, multi-racial mother.
Bullies targeted her often. Kids of each ethnicity froze her out. When asked her race on standardized tests, Triana didn’t know which bubble to fill in. A weak immune system sometimes isolated her more. She once had pneumonia and mononucleosis at the same time; a fever of 105.8 made her heartbeat sound like a firecracker exploding in her chest.
Sports, theater and church became her escape. Those positive experiences, atop the negative ones, created a wise teenager.
Triana realized that every kid struggles to find their place in the world. She chose to embrace her unique heritage and her physical challenges. She came to believe that God created her this way for a purpose.
And, perhaps, that purpose involves a sash, a tiara and the chance to be crowned Miss America.
Triana has gone from Miss Oklahoma State University to Miss Oklahoma City to Miss Oklahoma. From Sept. 6-10, she’ll be in Atlantic City competing for the national title so many girls dream of winning.
The winding path that’s brought her to this point provided many possible themes for her platform. Having already used “Heart-to-Heart” to discuss her congenital heart defect and “Healthy Habits, Healthy Lives” to emphasize physical activity, this time she’s using “Bridging the Great Cultural Divide.”
“Everything I was so upset about at the moments that they happened, now I’m so glad I went through it all,” she said. “Those struggles made me who I am today. I’m able to understand people and their challenges in ways that others may not be able to.”
A few years ago, running seemed like her way to fame.
Both her parents ran track for Oklahoma State, and she followed their path to Stillwater. In 2014, she was named to the Big 12’s academic all-conference team.
At a qualifying race for the 2015 Big 12 championships, she was 200 meters into an 800-meter when she felt her heart flutter. She fell on the track and lost consciousness; all she remembers is waking up in an ambulance gasping for air.
Triana’s mother struggled to pay the college bills. So when Triana learned that Miss Oklahoma State got $1,200, she entered the 2016 pageant … the day before the event.
She had a little experience in that world. As a high school sophomore, she entered a local pageant on a lark (she’d just seen the movie “Yes Man,” about a guy who agrees to do anything) and was the youngest finisher in the top 10. Organizers encouraged her to compete for a teen state crown.
“It was an ‘enjoy the week’ type of thing,” she said. “As an athlete walking into the world of high heels, makeup and hair, it was a wild experience.”
When she entered the Miss OSU competition, she was so unprepared that she had to borrow two dresses from a foe (her eventual runner-up, as it turns out). A shoe she’d left in her car during a track practice melted, but she didn’t discover that until she was backstage at the pageant.
“The straps that keep the foot in the heel were gone,” she said. “I had to use double-sided tape and push hard with my pinkie toe. I came away with a terrible cramp in my foot.”
That victory led to a spot in the 2016 Miss Oklahoma pageant. It proved to be a good experience because when she returned this year, as Miss Oklahoma City, she won – despite another shoe malfunction.
“During the opening number on our final night, I did a turn and the snap on my heel broke,” she said. “By the grace of God, my shoe stayed on for the rest of the dance. I was thinking, `Just don’t fall on your face!’”
Calmness under pressure is one of Triana’s strengths. She developed that out of necessity.
If she doesn’t control her stress level, she gets heart palpitations that leave her feeling as if someone is sticking a needle in her chest. Doctors continue monitoring her heart. (Through a stethoscope, she’s heard a clicking noise. On monitors, she’s seen blood swishing forward and backward through her heart, one motion too many.)
Because the ribbon of a track-meet finish line always was her goal, not the sash of a beauty queen, Triana occasionally looks in a mirror and wonders, “Where did this person come from?”
“But I’m a competitor,” she said. “That’s part of the mentality and quality they’re looking for – somebody who is a natural-born leader and isn’t doing this to be somebody, but to do something.”
Triana’s always been that way.
As a child, she headed a multicultural leadership group, fed the homeless and coached and tutored youngsters. She was voted “most Christ-like” at school. And now she’s brought her spirit, story and crown to my organization, the American Heart Association.
She took part in our 2016 Tulsa Heart Walk and led the warm-up during the opening ceremony of the 2017 event. She also spoke at a 2017 Go Red For Women Leadership Breakfast.
“I want to be for someone else what I didn’t have: a sense of hope,” she said. “That’s why I want to be Miss America. I want to reach more people. Everything I’ve been through has been for a reason, and that’s so others will feel they’re not alone.”