Talayna Ekelund is not only a pageant queen but a literal survivor.
Close to the Miss Teen Commonwealth International (CWI) competition in England on Oct. 20, she was diagnosed with Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) from her diabetes which she has had for roughly 10 years.
Initially, her mother Brandi thought she had the flu because of the symptoms she was displaying.
“She was supposed to compete in November but Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday she had a cold. Thursday, Friday she had the flu. She threw up twice on Friday and I said ‘Go to sleep, you have the flu. You’ll feel better in the morning’ and in one in the morning she’s like ‘I can’t breathe,” said Brandi.
Within an hour of being in the Daysland Hospital, she was sent to Edmonton as she had become completely unresponsive.
The medical professionals first found the episode to be linked to the DKA.
“That’s all that they were expecting. They weren’t expecting anything else and then at four o’clock in the morning the alarm bells went off and I watched 10 people run into her room and watched someone climb up on the bed and start doing chest compressions on her because her heart had stopped,” described her mother.
The 17-year-old had gone into progressive shock which inturn shut down her kidneys, organs and heart.
Her heart had stopped twice at two minutes each.
The doctors had almost given up on her.
After the second heart stop, they requested Brandi sign some paperwork to allow the staff to connect Ekelund to a life support machine which was connected through her leg rather than the neck.
The staff knew if her heart stopped a third time, there was nothing more they could do which was relayed back to Brandi.
“It doesn’t feel real. You think ‘I’m going to wake up because this is a dream because it can’t be real. This can’t be happening to us.’ She went to school on Friday and by Saturday her heart had stopped. Like the level of care we have here is unreal,” said Brandi.
With the amount of damage to her body, the doctors were unsure if her stamina and pain would be something she will deal with forever or if it would eventually dissipate.
“She left the hospital with a walker, on nerve blockers and pain meds. […] Nerves are so hard to predict what they’ll do. She’s off the walker, the nerve blockers. The last nerve test she had done, she has 80 per cent recovery in her nerve,” said Brandi.
Looking back and going forward
Ekelund grew up watching a popular TV show called ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ but at the time she was committed to the dance world since the age of three.
She trained in Edmonton nearly every day after school to dance until easily eight or nine o’clock at night.
With intensive training at 30 or more hours a week, Ekelund was injured at the age of 13, thus her move to beauty pageants.
The symmetry between dance and pageants was easily understood by Ekelund, making the transition much easier.
“I didn’t have any of the clothes to try on to go over but I had the experience and the love for makeup, the love for performing, so that was really useful for me,” she said.
The stigma surrounding pageants has been hard for Ekelund but underneath the superficial looking exterior, the judges examine academic marks, public speaking, charity and volunteer hours and other criteria which pushes competitors to be the best they can be in all aspects of public appearance.
Currently, Ekelund holds seven national titles with the hopes of claiming an international title when she competes in London in November 2019.
This includes titles like Miss Pre-teen for Model Miss, Miss Camrose, Miss Daysland, Miss Perfectly, Miss Teen Perfectly, Canadian Final Miss which she was crowned by Miss Universe Canada.
“With this title, the biggest honour is just being chosen from such a small town,” said Ekelund.
“Usually the girls are chosen from Toronto or Vancouver, somewhere with a big population. So I’m from a town of maybe 800 people so I really get to represent like local talents and I get to go around and appear at community events that I normally wouldn’t get much exposure [to] so I’m really thankful for that. I’m hoping to bring back an international title to continue on the support.”
The title of Miss Teen Canada CWI has never previously been won by a rural residing contestant before.
She won it last September and was hand-picked to take the title for a second year after they looked at her pageant and modelling experience and charity work, giving her another opportunity to try and win an international title.
Ladies from 23 other countries will be in attendance competing.