By Bridgette Waldau
When Taylor Fulford was crowned Miss Teen Okeechobee County Fair in 2012, it was the beginning of a journey that made her a mentor, advocate, and the confident young woman she is today. When meeting Taylor, her outward beauty and grace is undeniable, but her real beauty lies beneath.
Taylor decided to enter the world of pageantry even though she suffered from Type 1 diabetes. After being first diagnosed at the age of 14, Fulford really struggled with the disease. Little did she know what the pageant experience would do for her self-esteem and her growth as an individual. At 18, having never been in pageants, she explains what made her want to try it: “I wanted to challenge myself by trying something new that was out of my comfort zone. Like many others, at first, I thought pageantry was superficial, but it is so much more than wearing a crown. It is about the purpose one serves while wearing it.”
At the inaugural Okeechobee County Fair pageant in 2008, Pageant Director Donny Arnold wanted the experience for the contestants to be more than wearing a crown, but to also represent Okeechobee on a bigger stage. Arnold recalls, “I wanted the queens to have more opportunities. I reached out to the Miss Florida USA system, which offered a full scholarship to NOVA University for the winner. That is when our newly created pageant became Miss Okeechobee County Fair Teen USA. Each year our queens had the opportunity to go to compete in Miss Florida Teen USA.”
After being crowned, Taylor jumped at her next opportunity and worked hard to make sure she was at her best to compete for Miss Florida Teen USA. However, Taylor did not want her parents to be burdened with the high cost of competing at the state level. Through fundraising, she raised money to cover all her expenses for the pageant. With a pamphlet in hand, she visited local businesses, told her story, and raised almost $9,000. “I was impressed at her passion and drive to accomplish that goal,” Arnold tells me.
At Miss Florida Teen USA, Taylor used her platform to bring awareness to juvenile diabetes. And she took the stage by storm, placing in the top 16, a first for any Miss Okeechobee County Fair Teen USA.
No doubt, this experience changed Taylor’s life. Finding value in the competition, she continued to compete as an adult and competed in Miss Florida USA 2014, finishing in the top 16. From 2017 – 2021, she continued to compete, which included an impressive three consecutive third runner-up finishes. Taylor almost didn’t go back to compete this year, which was the final year she was eligible. Her dedication indeed paid off. In her eighth and final attempt, she was crowned 2022 Miss Florida USA last May in Coral Springs, FL. “I truly believe I would be a different person than I am today if I would have given up,” says Taylor.
She was also named most inspirational. “The biggest honor of that night, aside from being crowned Miss Florida USA, was being awarded the inspirational award, voted by my peers. They truly are the ones that inspire me, and it was an honor sharing the stage with them,” Taylor says.
Arnold states, “As I sat in the audience watching Taylor onstage, I knew it was different. Taylor looked ready to start her ‘dream job’ as she called it. When she was announced Miss Florida USA it was the most magical moment. I feel she will go down in history as one of the hardest working Miss Florida USA winners.”
I ask Taylor how it feels to represent Okeechobee. She says, “All of the cities I have represented I have lived in at some point, but Okeechobee will always be my hometown and where my heart is. I specifically wanted to represent Okeechobee for my last time because I truly believe my hometown has shaped me into the person that I am today. I will forever be grateful for the outpouring of support and love I have received from my community.”
Taylor, a graduate of the University of Florida, is a teacher at the Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School. She has volunteered over 800 hours of community service at various schools, UF Health Shands, and other organizations.
She is committed to educating the public about Type 1 diabetes. Taylor does not see her diagnosis as an obstacle, but more as a badge of courage. Soon after winning her first pageant, she started Okeechobee’s first “JDRF Walk to Cure” and raised over $11,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Taylor is also the founder of various initiatives including “Fit2BeYou,” “Crowns for a Cure,” and “Own Your Sparkle.”
Taylor’s inaugural “Crowns for a Cure,” a local pageant, raised over $9,000 for juvenile diabetes in 2021. This year, the event raised $16,000 for breast cancer research. She plans to continue “Crowns for a Cure,” choosing a different organization each year to make a difference in the lives of others. “I want to encourage girls and make them understand that this is not a superficial pageant,” explains Taylor. “It’s not just about looks. It’s about having confidence in yourself.”
She also founded a program called “Own Your Sparkle,” which has given Taylor the opportunity to mentor over 140 girls between the ages of four and 18, helping improve upon skills that promote self-confidence and poise. Taylor states, “I hope my journey has inspired these girls to never give up on their dreams. Whether it’s becoming the next Miss Florida USA or whatever they want to do in life, they can achieve it as long as they keep chasing that dream.”
As Miss Florida USA, Taylor hopes to continue her initiatives while also promoting adult women’s health and education. Her social media platform, “Fit2BeYou” focuses on helping others improve their relationship with food, exercise, and their body. She uses this platform to bring more awareness for Type 1 Diabetes, but also Type 2 Diabetes and how to prevent it by living a healthy lifestyle.
During her journey, Taylor has had many of her own mentors along the way. About her relationship with Arnold, Taylor says, “He saw the potential in me before I even believed in myself. It is surreal to think that one person can change your entire outlook on life. I strive to be that person for others.”
The support of Taylor’s family has no doubt been with her. She is the daughter of Randy and Christina Fulford and she has two sisters, Kaylen (Fulford) Meeks and Alexandrea Fulford. The pageant experience was new for them also. Taylor’s mom, Christina, says it was inspiring watching her daughter grow more confident year after year and fulfilling her goals. Christina says, “Competing is not always easy for Taylor, especially with her disease. She never used it as a crutch because she doesn’t want someone to feel sorry for her. When competing, she’s out of her routine and that’s bad for diabetics because of stress, nerves, lack of sleep and improper meals. So, to watch her overcome this and work so hard inspires me, too.” Christina says the best part of this journey has been all the new friends they’ve all met throughout the years, who continue to this day to be an important part of their lives. “These are people we would have never met if it were not for Taylor and her dream.”
In the April 2014 issue of Heartland LIVING, I wrote a story about Taylor. The column shows she was a mentor right from the start, especially to Destani Whaley. Whaley had entered the fair pageant with a lack of confidence due to her own disability. Destani said, “Taylor, thank you for guiding me. You are the greatest mentor, coach, and friend ever. You have taught me so much about life and determination. You told me, ‘Make your disabilities your abilities,’ and at that very moment you turned my world around and made me believe in myself.”
I don’t think anyone could have predicted back then how far Taylor would go, but reading that story again, it is really no surprise that she did get her “dream job.” Taylor’s next journey is the Miss USA finals in Grand Sierra in Reno, NV on October 3, 2022. Taylor says, “I can’t wait to represent my community of Okeechobee and the Sunshine State.”
Facts About Diabetes
- 34.2 million Americans have some form of diabetes
- 1.6 million Americans have Type 1 diabetes
- 64,000 people are estimated to be diagnosed each year in the U.S.
- 5 million people are expected to have Type 1 diabetes by 2050
How you can help: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) exists so Type 1 diabetes (T1D) won’t. Their mission is to improve lives by leading life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat T1D and its complications. Find out how you can support JDRF and make a difference in the lives of people with T1D by visiting www.jdrf.org/about or donate to Taylor’s personal fundraising page with JDRF Greater Palm Beach chapter www.jdrf.org/southflorida/
Social media: Instagram:@jdrfpb; Facebook: JDRF Greater Palm Beach @JDRFpb